Jan 1, 1994
Illegal drug use is a major problem confronting the United States today, and the Congress, in an effort to marshal additional resources to address this problem, directed the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish pilot outreach programs designed to reduce drug use among youth. Congress also directed the Secretary of Defense to report on the effectiveness of these programs and to recommend whether they should be continued. Researchers from the National Defense Research Institute and the Drug Policy Research Center in RAND's Domestic Research Division assisted in the evaluation, documenting the results of their efforts in Preventing Drug Use Among Youth Through Community Outreach: The Military's Pilot Programs. The following are the five central policy issues investigated and the results obtained.
DoD funded 12 programs across the four services and the National Guard. The programs varied considerably in size, location, format, intensity, and funding. Staff size varied from 50 to 500 and locations from a single installation to a nationwide network. Formats ranged from individual mentoring programs, to adventure camps, to physical fitness programs, to funding civilian programs. Some programs met for an hour a week and others up to nine hours per week. Funding ranged from $70,000 to just over a million dollars annually. All programs, however, concentrated on either preventing first drug use or precluding those who may have experimented from moving to regular use. An important finding is that for most of the programs the military demonstrated a good capability for working well with the communities, a key to success for these programs.
Those interviewed for the study identified a number of advantages the military has in running youth drug prevention programs for youth. Commonly cited were institutional characteristics, such as organizational skills, discipline, and a drug-free image. The people in the military are another strength: young, ethnically diverse, and enthusiastic. They also have the skills required to support programs such as outdoor adventure experiences. And military facilities are valuable assets, particularly National Guard armories, because they provide convenient places to conduct activities.
However, interviewees identified some comparative disadvantages that must be considered when using the military to support such programs. Members of the military are not trained in community outreach, so most of their specialized skills do not apply. And military organizations have a certain rigidity that may impede implementing nontraditional programs. Furthermore, members of the military are not as experienced in working with youth as schools and social service agencies. Finally, military personnel move frequently, hampering continuity.
But, on balance, the military can apply its strengths and fill an important niche in a wide set of programs. The National Guard may be able to fill an even broader role than active forces because of its close community association.
The best measure of effectiveness is reduced drug use. Unfortunately, the programs lacked some of the basic aspects of experimental design, such as random assignment and control groups, necessary to draw causal inferences. We did estimate how effective the programs would have to be in terms of reduced drug initiation for a projected savings in social costs to outweigh program costs. We were deliberately conservative in our estimates. Using this approach, a program that cost $100 per participant would be cost-effective if it
On average, a year of cocaine use costs society about seven times as much as a year of marijuana use. Thus, programs should focus on those at risk for using hard drugs. Comparing thresholds of effectiveness with what is known about comparable programs suggests that a number of military programs are cost-effective, particularly those involving mentoring, which have a modest dollar cost.
The funds spent on the pilot program could have been used to increase readiness. But the programs were small (reaching only about 10,000 youth and using less than 0.002 percent of the defense budget), and most of the service participants were volunteers. The time given by most volunteers was modest, usually an hour per week or a weekend per year. Facilities were used only when it did not interfere with military activities. Also, the programs had positive effects on morale and community relations. And preparing for military-relevant subjects, such as first aid or physical training, may have benefited those military personnel involved. However, both positive and negative effects on military readiness appear to be modest.
As mentioned, the programs were small, reaching only 10,000 or so youth. How many more youth could they reach? Certainly, there are many at-risk youth. The primary constraints to expanding the program are the number of volunteers, the number and locations of sites, and funds. Rough estimates are possible based on the number of volunteers, sites, and funds likely to be available. Without changing their fundamental character, DoD programs could reach only about 200,000 at-risk youth, a small fraction of the number at risk.
Future programs using military personnel should emphasize the following six attributes: