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

Putting PreventionDSS to Work

Prevention Specialist Alan Zeuge, M.P.A., a relative newcomer to Spokane County Community Services in Washington State, said that the PreventionDSS (Decision Support System) funded by SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) has already proved "extremely valuable" to him. Mr. Zeuge oversees 11 state-funded prevention services contracts for the county, providing technical assistance and liaison to community partners in such areas as substance abuse prevention, violence prevention, and child advocacy.

When one of his contractors came up with a problem he couldn't solve, Mr. Zeuge contacted the Western Center for the Application of Prevention Technology (CAPT), also funded by CSAP. CAPT staff took him through the DSS on the Web and helped him find what he needed.

The project is "HOPE for COAP"—Healthiness Offers Peaceful Enjoyment for Children of Addicted Parents—headed by Julie Wokasch, M.Div., at Colonial Clinic in Spokane. It provides substance abuse prevention services to children growing up in homes where one or more parents are chemically addicted, a serious risk factor for these children. Major project objectives are to reduce the incidence of early onset of drug use by the children and promote a healthy lifestyle.

"The intervention strategies used by HOPE for COAP include mentoring, individual and group counseling, education/awareness, and community outreach. Our challenge was to find pre- and post-test materials that would closely measure the project's intended outcomes in terms of modifying the children's risk factor profiles," said Mr. Zeuge.

Working online and by telephone with the Western CAPT, Mr. Zeuge and Ms. Wokasch started searching the system for models of pre- and post-test questions about risk factors for early drug use to help gauge HOPE for COAP's progress. Working through the "Library" and "Evaluate Programs" modules, they looked for measures like 'age of first substance use' and other risk indicators.

"But the DSS guided us to expand the queries," Mr. Zeuge said. "We found we needed to measure not just risk factors, but protective factors, too. The program led us toward bolstering protective factors, and it pointed to scales for measuring elements like parent-child bonding. We queried the system for tests that focus on values—things like attitudes toward illicit drug use and other deviant behaviors, such as shoplifting—and a half-dozen instruments came up for possible use."

There is one caveat to Mr. Zeuge's enthusiastic endorsement of the DSS: "Because there's so much good information and it's so easy to access," he said, "planners need to be careful not to just take the offered examples at face value. You have to look also at models available in the community and the experience and preferences of your colleagues. Then make the most of what the DSS recommends by tailoring it to your specific needs and objectives."

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