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SAMHSA News - Volume X, No. 3, Summer 2002
 

On the Web: Prevention Guidance Update

Though still in its infancy, just 1 year old as of September 15, SAMHSA's PreventionDSS (Decision Support System) is successfully providing users with practical, online help in creating and improving substance abuse prevention programs.

Anyone with a computer and a link to the Internet can request and receive expert help at no cost, whether the goal is to reduce smoking in middle schools, help adults build parenting skills, or stop drug-related violence among teens.

So far, prevention professionals at the state and local levels are welcoming that help, according to usage statistics from SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), which created the site. More than 3,600 users have registered 1,701 distinct prevention work projects in the DSS. Prototype version 3.0 is now in effect, and the DSS Web site—www.preventiondss.org—averages 30,000 hits per day.

PreventionDSS follows CSAP's logic model to help users work through a circuit of seven stages of planning, establishing, and evaluating their substance abuse prevention programs. Stages of the model are:

  • Assessing local needs and target groups

  • Developing capacity and resources for prevention activities

  • Selecting science-based intervention programs with evidence of effectiveness

  • Implementing programs by adapting and enhancing to suit local context and cultures

  • Evaluating programs by collecting, coding, and analyzing data

  • Writing reports about the program activities and results, and

  • Getting training about scientific methods and best prevention practices online.

The modules are interconnected, yet each one is self-contained. Modules include decision support and a tutorial, so program planners can launch into DSS at whatever stage is appropriate for their prevention project. DSS users can start with "Assess Needs" before planning a new project. Or they may approach the DSS with a project already under way and begin working in more advanced modules or with resources such as the library or descriptions of model programs.

A click of the mouse on any segment of the logic model takes the user to interactive tools and work areas supported by resource links for tutorials, technical assistance, downloadable documents, and presentations. Registered DSS users can save all their work, track their progress through the module, report results, and logon and logoff as needed. DSS user identities and information remain private; not even CSAP has access to individual project records.

Visitors can also use the site without registering, if they prefer. CSAP does not track a visitor's e-mail address.

" 'Simply DSS' is a continuing theme for this effort," said DSS project officer Jon Rolf, Ph.D., a senior public health advisor with CSAP's Division of Prevention Application and Education. "We strive to make prevention work easier. Some prevention providers will want to use consultants for the tools that are more technically advanced, but over the next few years, we'll develop components at different levels, for novices versus experienced practitioners." The system will be updated at 6-month intervals (approximately) for at least the next 4 years.

The DSS also extends the reach and productivity of CSAP's six regional training and technical assistance centers known as "CAPTs," Centers for the Application of Prevention Technology. CAPTs work with states to help local organizations adapt scientifically sound prevention practices to local needs and conditions. They support communities in selecting interventions that best suit the characteristics of their target populations.

"Prevention professionals are hungry for information, knowledge, and skills," said Robert W. McArdle, C.P.S., prevention applications management coordinator for CSAP's Western CAPT, serving states from Wyoming westward and the Pacific jurisdictions. "Historically, there has not been enough information and support available for preventionists, so the DSS fills an important gap. Many people in the prevention arena are excited to see the DSS evolve even further toward meeting the great promise it offers our field."

Jack Wilson of the Snohomish County Human Services Department in Washington State is a substance abuse prevention specialist who has used the Web site and sees the PreventionDSS as an important part of his agency's future.

"People in community prevention are . . . often unsure whether their efforts are really making a difference," Mr. Wilson said. "The DSS can help them answer the question, 'Have I accomplished anything with my project?' "

"I like to think we're giving parents and others in the community power tools rather than just hammers and saws to construct their projects," Mr. Wilson added. "With the DSS, I can be sure I'm pointing people to the most current, scientifically validated prevention guidance. Our local project organizers won't have to spend a lot of money to get access to the latest information about what works."

With its focus on ease of navigation, the PreventionDSS is powered to support even the most technology-shy computer novices. Tutorials are available on basics such as the use of Web browsers, saving and printing files, and installing plugins like Adobe Acrobat Reader. Because the DSS is Web-based and all data are stored on Web servers, users can access the DSS from any location, build any number of projects, and get detailed progress notes without exhausting their computer's memory. They don't even have to buy any special software.

CSAP Director Ruth Sanchez-Way, Ph.D., described the DSS as "the cornerstone" in CSAP's efforts to build a national prevention program, and "a means for getting the best prevention methods and programs into communities nationwide. With the DSS, we can offer end-users an enormous virtual library that's as accessible and friendly as their local library branch."

The system is evolving with continual input from the prevention field as well as CSAP program units and other Federal agencies. "Building the boat while we're sailing it," is how Dr. Rolf described the process. "For example," he said, "DSS users have told us they'd like more opportunities for collaboration and referrals for contacts with other organizations. Features promoting collaborations will be incorporated in the 'My DSS' section soon.

"Feedback from the field plays a big role in our improving and maintaining the system," Dr. Rolf continued. "Users can provide feedback via an e-mail link or through the toll-free (800) phone number. CSAP will continue partnering with prevention providers and other users at all levels to ensure we're meeting their needs."

To access the Decision Support System Web site, visit www.preventiondss.org.

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