‘Prevention’ is one of the first issues to be mentioned in the public debate on drugs, but evidence of what works in practice to prevent drug use is often overlooked. Today the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) launches the first European ‘how to’ guide on conducting high-quality drug prevention. Entitled European drug prevention quality standards: a manual for prevention professionals, it will be presented at an international conference hosted by the agency in Lisbon this week (1).

Developing and implementing best practice in drug prevention in Europe are goals set by the current EU drug strategy and action plan (2). In line with these goals, today’s manual is the culmination of a two-year project to assess existing guidance in this area and to meet the need for a commonly agreed European framework to improve drug prevention in the EU.

With support from the European Commission, the project is the fruit of collaboration between the seven organisations of the ‘Prevention Standards Partnership’, working closely with the EMCDDA (3). Bridging science, policy and practice, over 400 international, European and national experts and stakeholders contributed to developing the standards via a dynamic process involving focus groups, consultations and studies.

EMCDDA Director Wolfgang Götz said: ‘The new manual summarises current evidence on how to conduct good drug prevention in the EU. The aim of the quality standards is not to standardise prevention practice across Europe, but rather to achieve a similar level of high quality, while acknowledging diversity of practice’.

‘Implementing prevention measures correctly with evidence-based components will help ensure effectiveness and efficiency of funding and avoid unintended harmful effects’, he adds. ‘The manual will provide valuable guidance in this respect and allow preventive interventions to reach their full potential’.

The standards are designed to be of interest to all professionals who, directly or indirectly, contribute to drug prevention (e.g. psychologists, social workers, teachers, policymakers, service managers, police). They outline the necessary steps to be taken when planning, conducting or evaluating drug prevention programmes and can be used to inform prevention strategy, enhance professional development and assess and develop the organisations providing prevention services.

The standards can be applied to a wide range of drug prevention activities (e.g. education, outreach work); settings (e.g. school, community, family, recreational, criminal justice) and target populations (e.g. school pupils, young offenders, families), regardless of the duration of the programme.

An eight-stage project cycle is set out in the manual comprising: needs assessment; resource assessment; programme formulation; intervention design; management and mobilisation of resources; delivery and monitoring; final evaluations; and dissemination and improvement. The manual includes real-life scenarios and tips for using the standards and is complemented by a website with additional tools.