July 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA2

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Extension's Role in Drug Prevention Programs

Illegal drug use by youth is a concern of families, youth leaders, and the community. Based on a survey of junior and senior high school aged youth and discussion of the findings with interested groups, this Georgia staff member outlines steps in a prevention program and suggests educational inputs from Extension.

Douglas C. Bachtel
Extension Rural Sociologist,
Cooperative Extension Service,
University of Georgia-Tifton.
Accepted for publication: March, 1984.

Illegal drug use is prevalent in rural areas, but little is known about the problem. The prevailing opinion in many rural areas is that drug abuse isn't nearly as extensive as it is in urban areas.' Recent research, however, has discovered a high incidence of drug abuse among rural high school students throughout the country. Although many community groups have developed drug education and prevention programs, their efforts haven't been very successful-the incidence of drug use has continued to increase. The problem isn't the lack of interest or volunteers, but poor organizational techniques and management skills. Extension can play a key role in the formation and maintenance of the drug education groups by teaching and demonstrating organizational skills to group leaders and members. A wealth of useful drug educational material already exists but, because of poor management, many drug prevention groups' efforts frequently fail. This article: (1) reports the findings of an Extension drug study, (2) illustrates the key steps in developing and/or maintaining local drug prevention groups, and (3) outlines a role for Extension agents to demonstrate and teach organizational skills necessary for successful drug program development.

Georgia Study

In response to the need for information on rural drug abuse, Georgia's Cooperative Extension Service investigated the problem. The central concern of the project was to identify and assess the prevalence and frequency of illegal drug activity among rural junior and senior high school students. In the spring of 1981, a questionnaire was given to 8th through 12th grade students in 2 rural counties' public school systems. With the cooperation of junior and senior high school principals, a special homeroom period was designated for the survey. A total of 4,859 questionnaires was obtained.

Summary of Major Points

Here are some of the findings from the drug study:

  • About one-third have tried marijuana at least once.
  • Ten percent smoke marijuana either daily or at least several times a week.
  • Sixteen percent have used amphetamines at least once.
  • Enjoyment and curiosity were the major reasons for drug use.
  • Harmful effects was the major reason for not using drugs.
  • The most popular place for marijuana use was in cars.
  • Drug counselors and relatives were cited as sources for drug counseling help.
  • Males tended to use all drugs more than females.
  • Whites tended to use drugs, with the exception of marijuana, more frequently than nonwhites.
  • Parents' marital status wasn't significantly related to drug use, except for marijuana.
  • Young people who were more religious tended to use fewer drugs.
  • Students who shoplifted tended to be more frequent users of drugs.
  • As the use of drugs by parents increased, so did the frequency of drug use among the students.
  • Students from families with interpersonal conf I icts between parents tended to use drugs more frequently.

In sum, the results showed that drug abuse among young people in the study area was higher than recent national figures for rural youth. Thus, you have to conclude that the use of illegal drugs by rural youth in the study area is considerable and worthy of attention.


No one method has been found to prevent young people from abusing drugs. An increased knowledge of local patterns of drug abuse, however, can help mobilize citizen groups to develop prevention programs tailored to local conditions.

Here are some guidelines for creating and maintaining a drug prevention group. The guidelines are based on the experience gained from sharing the results of the survey with county and state Extension personnel, concerned parents, local school officials, drug counselors, and drug prevention groups in both counties. The role of Extension also is presented.

Have Community-Wide Organization

Drug prevention programs should take place within a well-structured group. The original idea or interest to form the group may only involve a few people, but volunteer groups operate more efficiently with more members. More members translate into a greater sharing of the workload for group projects. Increased membership also allows for creative ideas and new approaches to be introduced.

Extension's role should be to demonstrate and teach basic administrative functions to the group. Group members should be taught to properly publicize meeting times and places, keep attendance records and minutes, secure publicity about group goals and activities, make committee assignments, and coordinate work flow and progress reports. Organizational training provides the vital framework necessary for sustained volunteer efforts. Without basic organizational training, many volunteer groups would never get beyond the discussion stage.

Know the Community

A major element in forming a successful drug prevention program is knowledge about the community. If drug prevention groups are seeking some type of change, they must understand what they're trying to change. For example, what's the extent of the drug problem? How many young people are involved? What is their age, sex, grade, and race? How large a geographical area is the group going to work in? Is funding available? Who's the target audience-parents. youth, or the entire community? It's also critical that the group identify local power figures from government, business, education. and religion. Power figures are fundamental to the change process.

Extension agents are in a key position to help drug prevention groups learn how to understand their community. They can lend technical expertise and logistical support to conduct surveys, help obtain and interpret existing information about the community from census and other government documents, locate funding sources, provide information about fund-raising events, and identify formal and informal leaders.

Use Reliable Sources

Many federal, state, and private agencies and foundations regularly publish attractive, useful drug prevention information, as well as provide organizational help to citizen action groups. These sources should be used so the group doesn't have to commit its own resources to time-consuming and expensive activities that have already been professionally developed and are readily available. Extension's contacts in other counties, states, land-grant institutions, and national Extension networks can help identify many sources, strategies, and creative ideas that can greatly benefit drug prevention groups.

Have a Plan

Effective groups always develop plans for what they want to accomplish. The plan should contain long-range goals, short-term objectives, and priorities among the various objectives. The plans should be reevaluated and updated regularly. Plans are important because they show organization, leadership, and commitment. These attributes are critical to achieve support from local decision makers and secure money from funding sources.

Extension's role should be to teach group members how to organize and produce a neat, well-written plan and ensure that copies are provided to key legitimizing figures.

Define Responsibilities

To carry out plans and goals, the group must have well-defined responsibilities and specific assignments for its members. Specific assignments are especially important for volunteer groups because volunteers can't be expected to commit large amounts of time to assignments. Specific assignments distribute the workload and enable members to accept responsibilities they can complete. Extension's role should be to train group members by instruction and example on how to develop leadership skills necessary for the group to meet its goals.

Work with Community Leaders

It's extremely important that drug prevention groups establish and maintain communication with existing com- munity groups and leaders. Community groups can lend support, make suggestions, and help find resources. Com- munity leaders need to be kept informed so the group's program and viewpoint will be known and respected. Extension agents' knowledge of formal and informal leadership structures and working relationships with gov- ernmental agencies can help the group legitimize its role within the existing framework of community expectations.


Extension agents have the knowledge and technical expertise that can greatly aid volunteer groups in overcoming the organizational difficulties of developing and maintaining a viable drug prevention program. By using the sources and resources of Extension agents, groups can create the organizational structure from which they can create innovative programs to reduce and prevent drug abuse among youth.


  1. T. L. Napier, T. J. Carter, and M. C. Pratt, ''Correlates of Alcohol and Marijuana Use Among Rural High School Students." Rural Sociology. XLVI (No. 2, 1981), 319-32.
  2. Douglas C. Bachtel. ''Patterns of Rural Teenage Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Results of a Countywide Survey," Extension Report. I (No. 2, 1982), 58.
  3. L. D. Johnston, J. G. Bachman, and P. M. O'Malley, 1979 Highlights Drugs and Nation's High School Students Five-Year National Trends, Publication No. ADM 80-930 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979).