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Definitions in prevention and scope of PERK

PERK is designed for prevention interventions, i.e. it embraces the first three categories of the following. For better clarification and delimitation of the term prevention, see the following references.

These three classification categories for prevention have the advantage in common that the distinguishing variable is not the level of use (as in primary-secondary-tertiary) but the level of risk or vulnerability of the target group.

Harm reduction

See definition in the EMCDDA online glossary. Despite being used sometimes in a rather inflationary way (obviously, all prevention and treatment measures ‘reduce harm’ in one way or another), harm reduction refers to measures aimed at problematic or addicted drug users that do not necessarily target their consumption behaviour.

Therefore, this kind of approach is clearly outside the scope of the above-mentioned prevention strategies and, accordingly, is not dealt with in PERK.

Risk reduction

This term also refers to a rather inexact concept and could be applied to a wide range of activities, as is more a definition of the aim rather than the scope of interventions. If an intervention aims at modifying consumption behaviour in order to reduce risk (e.g. not mixing synthetic drugs with alcohol), it is more accurate to label it as selective prevention. ‘The lowering or elimination of the level of risk posed to human health or the environment through a combination of actions; actions that can decrease the likelihood that individuals, groups, or communities will experience disease or other health conditions’ (Racer, glossary).

Note: The following classification of prevention is no longer used by the EMCDDA, as its application in the drugs field is problematic (use/non-use are not good predictors for drug problems) for the description of interventions.

Primary prevention

Primary prevention is defined as both the prevention of disease before it occurs and the reduction of its incidence. This implies that the term ‘disease’ is clearly defined, which is mostly not the case in the drugs field. It depends whether the phenomenon to be prevented is any drug use and experimentation or for instance drug-related problems (see Websters online dictionary).

Secondary prevention

In analogy to above, secondary prevention comprises interventions that will detect disease in the early stages before clinical signs and symptoms manifest with the aim of reversing or reducing the severity of the disease or provide a cure. Screening is a secondary intervention strategy that involves the application of a non-diagnostic test to people who are asymptomatic for the purpose of identifying the likelihood of their having a particular disease. The aim is to achieve the early diagnosis and treatment of individuals and to efficiently and effectively begin early health prevention and control programmes.

Early intervention

This is a therapeutic strategy that combines early detection of hazardous or harmful alcohol use and treatment of those involved. Treatment is offered or provided before such time as patients might present of their own volition and in many cases before they are aware that their alcohol use might cause problems. It is directed particularly at individuals who have not developed physical dependence or major psychosocial complications. Early intervention is not a comprehensive risk-factor approach and is strongly substance focused. The only indicator of risk for acting on the target population is just the level of drug use. Social, psychological and biological vulnerability is not part of the original concept (see Lexicon of alcohol and drug terms published by the World Health Organization and UNODC glossary of demand reduction terms).

Note: This term describes an intervention method (within selective prevention or treatment) rather than an intervention type. It is therefore not used here in PERK and is avoided in EMCDDA work.

Health promotion and education

Health promotion is the provision of information and/or education to individuals, families and communities to encourage family unity, community commitment and traditional spirituality, all of which make a positive contribution to individuals’ health status.

Health promotion includes the provision of readily available information on healthier lifestyles for patients, and how to make the best use of health services, with the intention of enabling people to make rational health choices and of ensuring awareness of the factors determining the health of the community (see Lexicon of alcohol and drug terms published by the World Health Organization).

Health education

Health education comprises consciously constructed opportunities for learning, involving some form of communication designed to improve health literacy, including improving knowledge and developing life skills which are conducive to individual and community health.


See definition in the EMCDDA online glossary.

Specific objective

See definition in the EMCDDA online glossary.

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: Thursday, 22 July 2010