New developments in prevention

Individuals’ values and behaviours are influenced by what they perceive to be the normality in their social environment, and this especially true of young people. If they perceive experimental cannabis use as ‘normal’ and socially acceptable (associating it with low levels of risk and easy availability), this may be a key influence on their values and behaviour regarding cannabis use (Botvin, 2000). The challenge for prevention is to provide young people with social and cognitive strategies to manage these influences. It is therefore not realistic to assess the effectiveness of prevention policies using data on drug use by young people, particularly not estimates of experimental use, as they reflect societal norms and not genuine problem behaviour.

Instead, prevention should be evaluated against a number of clear criteria: well-defined objectives, target groups and actions set out in national strategies and based on the international knowledge base; quality control measures; the development of selective prevention measures and of family-based prevention; and regulatory measures on legal drugs aimed at influencing the social norms that imply condonation of or consent to particular consumption behaviours.

As far as evaluation of prevention strategies is concerned, the new national strategies in France and Italy exhibit important advances over their previous policies in that the role of prevention is now better defined, as is the importance of structured programmes and priority areas for taking action. In almost all Member States, a tendency towards more strategic approaches is apparent, and vulnerable groups are increasingly being envisaged in the overall planning.