Anti-drug Websites for Kids: If You Build It, Will They Come?


Are social networking sites and other online resources useful tools in the fight against adolescent drug and alcohol abuse?

Last night, I watched Dr. Nora Volkow report at the National Press Club some sobering results of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)-sponsored Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, conducted by the University of Michigan to gauge trends in adolescent use and attitudes toward drug use. The results? The popularity of binge drinking seems to be down a bit, but adolescents continue to abuse marijuana, Ecstasy, and prescription drugs.

There was some discussion as to whether the national debate over legalizing marijuana for medical use has affected adolescents’ perceptions of the dangers of using the drug, which is a valid concern, but I suspect that adolescents are able to draw the same distinction between medical and illegal use of marijuana that they do medical and illegal use of OxyContin. Compared to other illegal drugs, marijuana is just plain easy to come by, and it has been that way for generations.

Dr. Lloyd Johnston, who directs the MTF survey, believes that the dangers of using a drug like Ecstasy aren’t being made clear. Johnston’s position at the press conference was that pediatricians, as professionals that adolescents largely trust, have to get more involved in routine screening of patients for potential drug and alcohol abuse.

NIDA has reached out to teens with a website that imparts information regarding drug abuse and addiction. It also includes information for parents and teachers to help them engage and inform adolescents.

It’s obvious that there has been a lot of thought put into the NIDA website. The information presented is important, and the site sports all the buttons for the major social networking sites. But it’s not sticky; I don’t see what would drive teens to the site. That’s a problem for well-intentioned sites like this, because adolescents today virtually live online.

This comes to mind on the heels of Edward Norton’s announcement of Crowdrise, a new site designed to develop communities of charitable giving. I can’t predict how well it will go over, but it takes the desire to make the world a better place and combines it with social interaction tools that you’d find on Facebook.

As if that weren’t appealing enough, its message will likely speak to a younger generation in that it combines an almost anti-establishment feeling (think of words and phrases like “chaos,” “french kissing,” and “the power of the crowd is real”) with community (“if you don’t give back, no one will like you”). It offers a way to define the problems that are important to you and connect you with others who feel the same way -- and make a difference.

I hope that organizations like the NIDA are taking notes because adolescents are tuned into forms of communication and creating communities that are further removed than ever from pediatricians, teachers, and parents, who are finding it more challenging than ever to get the one-on-one time with adolescents necessary to truly monitor their well-being.

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