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Universal prevention

Setting and availability of data

Universal prevention is probably the most prevailing drug prevention strategy in the three main public health settings. See reviews of literature and the evidence base for universal prevention in the Best Practice Portal and pearls for practice in PERK.


School-based prevention is in Europe the most frequent and the most popular form of universal prevention because school facilitate easy access to the major part of youth. In theory, such a well-organised setting would allow for good monitoring of the contents, quality and extent of prevention interventions.

There is a demand and potentials to assess coverage and availability of universal school-based prevention in order to enable policy makers to know to what degree and to which level of quality and intensity there is really prevention coverage in their country. The prevailing reality is a plethora of small, short-term, one-off activities and interventions without a stable and science based structure. These constitute big part of what is reported as class-room based drug prevention activities in member states.

It is known (see in PERK) that only a small set of ingredients of those commonly used for drug prevention actually work.
The evidence base for school-based prevention is only proven within standardised prevention programmes. Such programmes have a fix curriculum, multi-session interventions, are content-defined for each session and with respective materials. If teachers are well trained for these programme and have good structural support, these programmes can cover large school populations. The EMCDDA has therefore limited the detailed monitoring on standardised prevention programmes only

Other school-based prevention interventions which fulfil minimal criteria of evaluation and project design can be found in EDDRA

A Drugs in focus publication (2003) on main parameters of European school-based prevention is already available for download in 12 languages (Drug prevention in EU schools).


The ideal understanding of “community” as an active social network of participating individuals independently from their professional background is not shared in all EU member states, and accordingly themeaning of “community-based prevention” differs substantially across the EU.

As the participatory character of community-based prevention is in practice not a universal principle throughout Europe, it has been impossible until now to describe community-based prevention in a comparable manner. Therefore, the only feasible way to compare community-based prevention interventions across member states is using a minimal common denominator – i.e. “community” just as a geographical and administrative setting – for a common information collection.

In order to reflect the reduced definition, the EMCDDA and its partner use the term community-located prevention (i.e. referring just to the setting) instead of community-based prevention (which would imply active community involvement).


Most family-based prevention in several member states is universal: parents' evenings, lectures, seminars and workshops for parents, aiming at reaching out for a generic profile of families or parents.
These approaches might have the effect of attracting rather the well-off families with protective psychosocial background whereas families which were factually at risk do rarely attend such seminars.

About the EMCDDA

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Friday, 24 February 2012