ISU research shows Extension programs produce long-term prevention of meth use

AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University research programs designed to prevent destructive behaviors among youth had been proven to be effective in reducing alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use. You can now add methamphetamine to that list according to new results from two studies of more than 1,300 students from rural Iowa public schools by researchers from Partnerships in Prevention Science at Iowa State, working with ISU Extension.

Richard Spoth, Scott Clair, Chungyeol Shin and Cleve Redmond authored a paper on their studies titled "Long-term Effects of Universal Preventive Interventions on Methamphetamine Use Among Adolescents," which was published in the Monday, Sept. 4 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine -- a monthly professional medical journal published by the American Medical Association.

"Guided by research on the causes of substance abuse problems, a number of preventative interventions have been designed to modify the two primary socializing environments of youth, family and school, or to build youth competencies in the school setting," wrote the researchers. "Although these preventative interventions have shown effects on reduced adolescent alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use, no studies could be found that examined effects of any kind of preventative interventions on methamphetamine use."

The methodology

The studies were conducted in collaboration with ISU Extension. One began with 667 sixth grade students from 33 rural Iowa public schools, and a second that started with 679 seventh grade students from 36 similar schools within the state. In the first study, schools were assigned to the Iowa Strengthening Families Program, Preparing for the Drug Free Years, or a control condition. In the second study, schools were assigned to a revised version of the Iowa Strengthening Families Program plus Life Skills Training, Life Skills Training alone, and the control group.

The specific programs are collaborations between ISU Extension and community school districts providing evidence-based counseling -- in reoccurring one or two-hour sessions -- directly to youths and their families. Preparing for the Drug-Free Years is a five-session course designed to enhance parent-child interaction and reduce the risk for early drug use. The seven-session Iowa Strengthening Families Program aims to promote healthy interactions among family members.

The results are in

Six years after 148 sixth-graders began the Iowa Strengthening Families Program, none reported using meth within the past year by the time they were in 12th grade, compared with five users among the 156 (3.2%) in the control group. Five of the 140 (3.6%) Preparing for the Drug Free Years subjects reported using meth within the past year -- a rate similar to the control group.

In the second study, four years after 187 seventh-graders began the revised Strengthening Families Program group (0.5%), one reported previous year meth use by the time they were in 11th grade -- compared with eight among the 193 students (4.2%) in the control group. At the 12th-grade level, three of the Life Skills Training intervention subjects reported past year use, compared with nine in the control group.

Researchers also assessed lifetime meth use among students by the time they reached the 11th grade in the second study -- finding only one of the intervention program subjects who reported use, compared with 10 in the control group.

"Given the lack of previous preventative intervention outcome research on methamphetamine use, the results of the current study are welcome -- indicating the effectiveness of three of four universal interventions on lifetime or annual methamphetamine use across two randomized studies," wrote the researchers.

"Results from both studies underscore the argument for greater emphasis on preventative interventions, particularly universal ones for the general population," they wrote.

Partnerships in Prevention Science at Iowa State conducts research designed to promote capable and healthy youths, adults and families through partnerships with local communities assisted by ISU Extension. Most projects are funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, including a number of studies funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"Adolescents in smaller towns and rural areas are particularly vulnerable to the grip of methamphetamine and its potentially dangerous effects, such as psychosis and even heart attack and stroke," said NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. "As the problem presented by methamphetamine persists, the need exists to better understand the drug's effects on the brain and behavior so as to develop more effective prevention and treatment strategies."

Spoth and his colleagues have been studying positive youth development, substance use and other troubling behavior among students in grades 6-12 in more than 100 public schools -- including thousands of Iowa youth and families.