Kutztown Strong, Kutztown Area School District and Kutztown University Institute of Addiction Studies report positive outcomes for students of substance abuse prevention curriculum.

Kutztown Strong finished out the last quarter of 2017 with presentations from research faculty from Kutztown University’s Institute of Addiction Studies.

In October, Professor William Bender, LSW, presented the outcomes of the LifeSkills evidence-based prevention curriculum delivered to 7th grade students by teachers in the Kutztown Area Middle School.

Having an extensive background in the administration of chemical dependency and mental health programs that spans more than 30 years, Prof. Bender discussed the history and development of the LifeSkills program, its purpose, and its learning objectives.

Data gathered by teachers then summarized collaboratively by Kutztown Strong staff and faculty of the Kutztown University, Department of Social Work, and Institute of Addiction Studies found 78 percent of the youth had a better understanding of the harmful effects of drug use after completing the course. Additionally, 62 percent of the students reported they were now less likely to approve of peer’s use of drugs, 43 percent increased skills in knowing alternate means of reducing anxiety, and 29 percent increased their knowledge of media’s potential negative influence on behavior.

Bender explained that the curriculum is designed to increase student knowledge of the harmful effects of substance use and refusal skills while decreasing motivations for use. These changes are expected to lead to long-term outcomes similar to those demonstrated in the programs randomized control trials which found tobacco use was cut by 75 percent, marijuana use decreased 66 percent and alcohol use declined 60 percent.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/) estimates communities and society save up to $1256 in consequences from drug use for every youth that participates. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018) substantiates such savings noting that for every $1 spent on prevention, up to $12 is saved in reduced healthcare costs, overdoses, deaths, drug-related accidents, and increased productivity in life and work. (https://www.drugabuse.gov/).

The success of the program has led community leaders to pursue a grant to expand the program for 6th and 8th grade students in the district. Volunteers from Kutztown Strong, KASD, KU, and Berks County Council on Chemical Abuse (COCA) are collaborating on the grant writing project.

Kutztown Strong hosted another presentation by KU faculty in November. Dr. Wei worked in the areas of mental health, health, and schools for many years and now teaches research and community practice course in the Department of Social Work.

At the request of Kutztown Strong, Dr. Wei delved deeper into Pennsylvania Youth Survey data to identify community specific characteristics of youth substance use behaviors. Her analysis found youth living in homes where family conflict is present, where parents use illegal substances or drink alcohol in excess, or where the family experiences food insecurities increases the likelihood of youth substance use than those that do not.

Kutztown Strong’s 2018 calendar includes a presentation at KU Community Forum on Friday March 30. The organization was honored with an invitation to speak about their local, grassroots efforts in responding to the national opioid epidemic with strategic substance abuse prevention planning at the community level.

The group plans to continue looking for ways to expand initiatives that provide healthy afterschool activities for district youth. The organization would also like to collect thoughts from parents in the community regarding what information or skills they might find helpful in service of the goal to keep local youth safe and drug free.

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