Drug use prevention in the Netherlands is embedded in a broader perspective of a national prevention programme for 2014-16, which was renewed in May 2017. The Dutch drug use prevention policy primarily aims to discourage drug use and reduce the risks for drugs users themselves, for their families and for society as a whole. The national drug use prevention policy has been shaped along five objectives. In recent years, emphasis has been given to counteracting the normalisation of recreational drug use in nightlife settings.
Prevention activities are coordinated and funded mainly by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. Local municipalities are responsible for carrying out the prevention interventions and policies in close cooperation with schools, municipal care services, neighbourhood centres and other organisations involved in substance use prevention.
Prevention interventions encompass a wide range of approaches, which are complementary. Environmental and universal strategies target entire populations, selective prevention targets vulnerable groups that may be at greater risk of developing substance use problems and indicated prevention focuses on at-risk individuals.
In the Netherlands, environmental prevention activities are mainly concerned with regulating and controlling the availability of alcohol and tobacco. The enforcement of these measures is decentralised to municipalities.
Universal prevention is carried out in schools through the Healthy School and Drugs programme. This programme targets students from elementary school to vocational education, as well as parents and teachers. It was revised to increase its skill-focused components and to provide more intensive interventions on social norms, self-regulation and impulse control, and professional training for educational staff. Outside school settings, the project Alcohol and Drug Prevention at Clubs and Pubs aims to create a healthy and safe nightlife environment. Electronic media and new applications are increasingly used to provide information and counselling on drug-related issues.
In recent years, more attention has been given to selective prevention interventions in the Netherlands, although their availability largely depends on local policies. These interventions, carried out by non-governmental organisations in cooperation with government services, target various at-risk groups: parents with drug use problems and their children; frequent users of cannabis; tourists; young people with learning disabilities; young people from socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods or in special institutional settings; and young people in recreational settings. Projects in recreational settings focus on the implementation of safe clubbing regulations and person-to-person interventions. These initiatives have recently been complemented with additional interactive tools, campaigns, conferences and mobile applications such as the ‘Red Alert App’, through which recreational drug users can receive alerts about especially dangerous drugs on the market or find general information about drug-testing services. The government, healthcare providers and funding institutions support the involvement of social districts teams in universal and selective preventive mental health care to improve early detection; in several municipalities, teams are being trained to identify excessive alcohol or drug use.
In the indicated prevention area, activities also focus on early identification of substance use or dependence. Indicated prevention is mostly carried out by general practitioners or primary care assistant practitioners.