The goal of this project was to increase education and awareness in the community, including in the schools, of the risks of youth marijuana use through evidence-based intervention and targeted communication.
One risk factor that contributes to marijuana use is low perception of harm of marijuana use compared to other drugs. According to the 2017 Arlington Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), only 41% of Arlington High School students reported finding “moderate or great risk” of harm in regular use of marijuana (once or twice a week), compared to perception of harm of youth use of alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs (73%, 90%, and 93%, respectively). Regular marijuana use, especially in teenage years, can have negative effects on the developing brain, potentially lowering IQ and increasing risk of dependence or addiction. The recent legalization of marijuana in MA (both medical and retail) has sent mixed messages to youth about normalization of marijuana use and further fueled misperceptions of harm. Additionally, a medical marijuana dispensary is scheduled to open in Arlington in January 2018, which would be the first one in this town.
The Arlington Youth Health and Safety Coalition (AYHSC) works in the community to engage, inform, and empower residents to prevent and reduce youth substance use and other risk behaviors. Employing a public health approach to prevention, AYHSC uses multiple strategies to educate the community about harms of youth substance use, as well as implement evidence-based prevention programs across the community to promote healthful behaviors. The efforts of AYHSC serve both the general community and the school community. Other sectors of the community who are involved in coalition work are members of law enforcement, businesses, media, youth-serving organizations, civic/volunteer groups, religious/fraternal organizations, healthcare professionals, state/local government, substance abuse organizations, parents and youth.
Increasing education and awareness in the community, including in the schools, to shift perceptions of the harms of marijuana use in youth, particularly since it was recently legalized.
The proposed intervention involved two main components, both of which were available on the intervention website. The first was a media campaign that helped educate the identified target audiences about the harms of adolescent marijuana use as well as data surrounding student use in the town. This media campaign also served as an avenue for the second component, a website that contained audience-specific information about marijuana use and resulting in-school media campaign (posters, social media ads) for high school students using an evidence-based approach to engage and message to students.
Students developed a media campaign with social media messaging and posts, infographics and fact sheets, posters with targeted messaging, and advertisements to engage high school students. Students also developed an online module to educate high school students about the harms of marijuana using a “choose your own adventure” scenario; students chose the best response at various decision points that sent them down a pathway where they learned more information if they chose correctly or alternative strategies if they chose incorrectly. This module was available on a website the students designed that also included information on marijuana policies both local and national, risk reduction strategies for current marijuana users, and peer influence and social support. After the semester the materials were shared with the Coalition and adapted and implemented accordingly.
This project took six months to complete from kick-off meeting to presentation of final deliverables. Click the button below for a detailed timeline.View Project Timeline