The chairman of the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission today called for the implementation of a "public health" approach to substance abuse prevention.
"This is an approach that has been successful nationally in combating epidemics such as heart disease and cancer," said Dr. Neil Solomon, the chairman. "Heart disease, for example, has been reduced significantly because the public has become aware of certain risk factors and modified their behaviors."
The more risk factors young people face, the more likely they will be to abuse drugs, he said at a news briefing at The Door in East Baltimore -- a program serving high risk youth already in effect in the city. And, the more protective factors in a young person's life, the less likely he or she will be to abuse drugs, he said.
Solomon said the commission has $1.7 million in federal funds to spend on the program, which he described as "one of the most effective for the dollars spent."
"The public health approach recognizes that alcohol and addiction are preventable diseases and that these diseases have reached epidemic proportions," he said.
As the nation did in heart disease, Maryland must concentrate on reducing substance abuse risk factors and concentrate on strengthening protective factors, he said.
These risk factors are among those linked to adolescent substance abuse: academic failure; early anti-social behavior, weak social bond to conventional society, association with drug-using peers, parental drug use or family history of alcoholism and a family's low expectations for their children's success.
The protective factors include a strong social bond to family, school, the community and positive peers; commitment to conventional values, beliefs, norms and expectations; recognition by and involvement with groups and individuals who do not use or sanction drugs, and skills to resist social influences, solve problems, make decisions and participate in productive group activities.
Solomon said research indicates the most effective prevention efforts will target more than one risk or protective factor, will intervene early -- before behavior stabilizes, will bond youth to family, school, positive peer groups and community and involve a home-school-community partnership.
Experts say the public health approach addresses the root causes of substance abuse, rather than the symptoms.
The public health approach to prevent substance abuse is being used successfully in Oregon and Washington, said Larry Dawson, commission executive assistant for prevention services.
Solomon said a statewide grand jury in Maryland that would have subpoena power across all jurisdictions of the state is needed "so we could tap into the drug kingpins' hidden assets" which he said are needed to fight the war against drugs.