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Prevention strategy for teens appears to fill several unmet needs

December 14, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Rural African-American adolescents are target population

A substance use prevention curriculum developed by the University of Georgia’s Center for Family Research targets a number of underserved communities, including rural areas and older adolescents. Newly published research indicates that the program can have a positive effect not only on reducing substance use rates, but also in mitigating conduct problems and symptoms of depression.

The encouraging results that have been published online in Pediatrics enhance the chances that the Strong African American Families-Teen (SAAF-T) curriculum will be widely disseminated. The lead author of the study says the program can be implemented in a variety of community settings, with services delivered by community members without special training in substance abuse service delivery.

“It is a highly structured curriculum, with every session carefully crafted down to the last second,” says the Center for Family Research’s Gene H. Brody, PhD.

SAAF-T targets African-American adolescents living in rural communities. “Interestingly, there are few prevention programs that are scientifically based and validated for adolescents,” says Brody. “Most are for pre-adolescents,” including a SAAF program for pre-teens from which SAAF-T was derived.

SAAF-T can be implemented in settings ranging from schools to community behavioral health facilities to youth recreation centers. Carried out in a group-based format over five two-hour sessions, the curriculum in each session involves one hour in which youths and their family members are separated, followed by one hour in which they are brought together to practice the skills learned earlier.

The randomized trial examining the results of SAAF-T pilot implementation involved 502 families in rural Georgia. In comparison to adolescents in a control condition, adolescents participating in SAAF-T demonstrated a reduction in substance use, problems related to substance use, conduct problems, and symptoms of depression, according to the researchers.

Brody says the research, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), looked primarily at alcohol and marijuana use since they are the two most common drugs of choice in the population.

He believes SAAF-T offers an important boost to family members of at-risk teens. “It fills a need for many families who forget that adolescents still need their active involvement in protective activities,” Brody says.

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