Preventing Drug Misuse

The smartest and most effective way to address drug misuse is to stop it before it starts. Decades of research on prevention strategies underscore two things:

Risk Factors

First, there are risk factors that make it more likely that a person will misuse drugs. By addressing and reducing these risk factors, we can help prevent drug misuse. Risk factors can include:

  • Availability of drugs. When drugs are readily available and accessible, there is a greater chance they will be misused.
  • Early drug use. A child or adolescent who uses alcohol or misuses drugs is more likely to misuse drugs later in life.
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). A child who experiences certain adverse childhood experiences (known as ACEs) is more likely to misuse drugs over the course of their life.

It is important to remember that no single risk factor makes it likely that a person will misuse drugs. Rather, risk factors make a person more susceptible to drug misuse.

Protective Factors

Second, there are protective factors that make it less likely that a person will misuse drugs. By strengthening these protective factors in the lives of young people, we can help prevent drug misuse. Protective factors can include:

  • Strong emotional bonds. A young person who forms strong emotional bonds with family members, teachers or faith communities is less likely to misuse drugs.
  • Opportunities to get involved. A young person with opportunities to become involved with family, school or community activities is less likely to misuse drugs.
  • Recognition for positive behavior. A young person who receives recognition for effort and accomplishment is less likely to misuse drugs.

Another highly-regarded, evidence-based approach to prevention is the “40 Developmental Assets” framework developed by the Search Institute. Learn more at the Search Institute website.

Learn more about:

Preventing Overdose Deaths

While some prevention strategies focus on preventing drug misuse before it starts, other strategies focus on preventing drug overdose deaths.

Evidence-based strategies to prevent overdose deaths include:

How Can I Use Data to Support Prevention Efforts?

Prevention efforts are most effective when they are informed by solid data. For assistance tracking down data about the local impact of the opioid epidemic and substance misuse in general, contact your local health department, your local health director, or email the North Carolina Division of Public Health.

As you look for data to inform prevention efforts, these sources may be helpful to you: 

  • For state and local data on opioid overdose deaths, opioid pills dispensed, community naloxone reversals, and other aspects of the opioid epidemic, visit the NC Opioid Dashboard.
  • For monthly surveillance reports and county-level overdose slides, as well as data tables on overdose deaths, hospitalizations, and emergency department visits, visit the poisoning data page.
  • To track infections such as hepatitis C that can spread through unsafe drug use practices, use the North Carolina Communicable Disease Data Dashboard.
  • For emergency medical services and emergency department data, work with your local health department or a healthcare system with complete access to The North Carolina Disease Event Tracking and Epidemiologic Collection Tool (NC DETECT).
  • For real-time overdose surveillance data across jurisdictions to support public safety and health efforts, find out whether local law enforcement agencies participate in ODMAP – an innovative data collection effort spearheaded by the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program.

Learn how our lead healthcare partner Atrium Health is using technology to identify patients who may be at risk of misusing controlled substances.