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"Addiction Policy Research Update" Newsletter - Spring 2007

This is the second volume of the quarterly news tips from the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—a $66 million program that funds research into policies related to alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

Please contact me at if you'd like to follow up on any of the news items below. —Prabhu Ponkshe

Research Update

Spring 2007


School-based Prevention Programs

Federally-recommended Prevention Programs May Require Second Look

 New research, published in Prevention Science, suggests that, contrary to current practice, states should not solely depend on federal government lists in deciding which drug prevention programs to recommend to the nation's schools. SAPRP-funded researchers found that programs on widely-used lists of prevention programs were viewed by state prevention officials as "research-based," though the evidence of effectiveness was scientifically weak and often supported by no more than "a single small efficacy trial by program developers."

According to one of the authors, lists were generally not updated when new studies were released, and few of the programs on the lists had received independent evaluations. "This is a problem because a number of independent evaluations have found null or even negative outcomes for students exposed to several well known prevention programs, compared with control groups of students who had not been through the programs," noted Denise Hallfors, PhD, senior research scientist with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

A second study, published in Evaluation Review, suggests that little evidence exists regarding the long-term impact of prevention programs on drug use. The authors questioned the criteria used to determine inclusion on "best practices" lists, and suggested that a lack of transparency in the presentation of evidence could mislead directors of programs aimed at preventing substance abuse among young people.

In the mid 1990s, growing concern over the effectiveness of school-based prevention programs prompted a change in federal policy. The US Department of Education began requiring schools to implement research-based prevention programs in 1998. The directive was made into law with passage of the "No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001."

In an effort to promote evidence-based practices, government officials, researchers, and program managers developed lists of model prevention programs to help guide school district decision makers towards "promising," "effective," and "model" evidence-based programs that were said to be "supported by the best available science."

Overall, the new research suggests that federal lists may mislead program directors, attributing success to programs that have not been subjected to proper scientific review.

This research was funded by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The article entitled, "Does Federal Policy Support the Use of Scientific Evidence in School-Based Prevention Programs?" was published in the peer-reviewed journal Prevention Science. The article entitled, "The Devil is in the Details: Examining the Evidence for 'Proven' School-Based Drug Abuse Prevention Programs" was published in the peer-reviewed journal Evaluation Review. If you would like to speak with the researchers or obtain copies of the articles, please contact Jeff Haskins at

Housing and Welfare Recipients

Housing Instability among Current and Former Welfare Recipient Mothers

A new study by SAPRP-funded researchers in Michigan suggests that screening welfare recipients for health, mental health, drug use, and domestic violence problems could help social service providers identify women who face the greatest homelessness risk so that they can be considered for both treatment and for housing assistance. Between 1997 and 2003, more than 20 percent of low-income mothers in Michigan who were current or former welfare recipients had been evicted from their apartments, and 12 percent reported experiencing homelessness at least once during the same time period, according to new research.

The report also pinpointed several factors that put the women at risk for homelessness. The authors suggest that the state agencies that operate Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) should devote specific attention to providing effective services to women who face high risks of homelessness.

Using data from the Women's Employment Study-a longitudinal survey of single mothers who received cash welfare in one Michigan county in February 1997-the researchers identified several factors that were strongly associated with homelessness. These include health problems, low level of education, psychiatric disorders, hard drug use and domestic violence. The authors, who followed the women for six years, recommended that social service workers investigate housing concerns among welfare applicants and recipients with these personal problems.

Researchers found that among those who had been evicted or homeless, about one-half had not completed high school, compared to only about one-quarter of those who did not experience either of these housing problems. Those who had been convicted of a crime and those who had been exposed to domestic violence were more than twice as likely to have experienced homelessness as those who did not have a conviction or a domestic violence experience.

This research was funded by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For a copy of the article, please contact Jeff Haskins at

Environmental Injustice

Density of Liquor Stores and Bars in Urban Neighborhoods

The first national study to measure the density of alcohol retail outlets in urban neighborhoods found that all minorities, except for Native Americans, live in areas with a significantly higher density of liquor stores per roadway mile than do whites. Earlier studies have found, however, that Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians on average consume less alcohol and have lower rates of heavy alcohol use than whites.

Using national census and social demographics data from cities across the country, SAPRP-funded researchers from the RAND Corporation suggest that mismatches between alcohol demand by minorities and supply of liquor stores within urban minority neighborhoods may constitute an environmental injustice for minorities and lower income people.

Previous case studies of minority neighborhoods in cities like Baltimore, Chicago, and San Francisco have found higher densities of alcohol retail outlets, but this is the first national study to show that minority youths are exposed to more liquor stores per roadway mile than white youths.

Historically, discussions of environmental injustice have centered on the presence of toxic substances near residences, but environmental justice advocates have argued that the definition of a "toxic environment" should also include factors that compromise healthy lifestyles, such as barriers to active living, healthy eating, and those that encourage tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption.

Researchers used two measures of outlet density. First, they looked at the number of outlets per 100 roadway-miles. Second, they looked at the number of outlets per 1,000 persons. Some of the results are sensitive to the measure used. According to the authors, roadway miles represent a more natural measure in assessing density because alcohol is typically obtained through the road system. The findings suggest that the number of outlets per roadway mile may be an important factor in assessing density in the local environment-distinct from the measure of per-capita density.

Although the researchers note that further research is needed, their preliminary findings suggest that the disparities they identified constitute an environmental injustice for minorities and lower income people.

This research was funded by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The article entitled, "Alcohol and Environmental Justice: The Density of Liquor Stores and Bars in Urban Neighborhoods in the United States" was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. For a copy of the article, please contact Jeff Haskins at

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