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Psychology Prof. William Crano to help launch drug use prevention curriculum for Asian and Pacific countries

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The U.S Department of State has asked Claremont Graduate University psychology Professor William Crano to help develop a universal drug use prevention curriculum for 26 countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Crano, one of the world’s leading drug prevention researchers, will team with nine other experts to craft curriculum for member nations of The Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific. Some of the member countries have among the highest rates of drug abuse and drug-related deaths in the world and few or no effective prevention programs in place.

William Crano“They’re not going to be flying by the seat of their pants anymore,” Crano said. “We’re going to give them a strong educational backing for prevention programs based on what we know from years of scientific research.  Given the severity of some of their problems, even small changes will have big impacts.”

The Colombo Plan, established in 1951, is a regional intergovernmental organization that furthers the economic and social development of member countries.

Those countries are: Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam.

In Indonesia, authorities are battling a skyrocketing rate of methamphetamine use, particularly among laborers, students, and sex workers, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). One recent survey estimated that the country is home to more than 3.7 million addicts. In Afghanistan, heroine is cheap and pure and on the rise, and drug use has grown by more than 50 percent since 2005. Reports indicate that some parents give opium to their children to quell hunger pangs or to treat common illnesses.

“When I started hearing some of the issues we would be dealing with it put me on the floor,” Crano said.  “In some cases it’s as much of a poverty issue as a drug issue. We’ll have to adjust our approach in each country depending on the problem.”

Crano’s primary area of research is in creating persuasive messages to prevent drug abuse in children and adolescents.

He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science, has been a NATO Senior Scientist, a Fulbright Fellow to Brazil, and a liaison scientist in the behavioral sciences for the Office of Naval Research, London.  He also has served as the chair of the Executive Committee for the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and as director of the Program in Social Psychology at the National Science Foundation.

His involvement in the Colombo Plan effort stems from his previous work to help create global drug prevention standards for the UNODC. Those standards were finalized in March and will be at the core of the Colombo plan curriculum.

According to Crano, global anti-drug efforts have typically attacked supply by supporting law enforcement actions against manufacturers and traffickers. Drug use prevention programs, meanwhile, have been ineffective, relying on exaggerations and misinformation in attempts to stoke fear (think Reefer Madness or public service announcements depicting dealers selling out of garbage cans).

“And what our research in Claremont has shown is that when you do that people act the wrong way, actually going against the recommendations and becoming more likely to move into drug use than if we had done nothing at all,” Crano said. “A campaign that really tells it straight, that shows the honest dangers of some of these drugs is what has been shown scientifically to make the biggest difference.”

Crano went to Washington, DC, in August for an initial round of meetings at the State Department. He and his fellow experts will travel to the Colombo Plan countries beginning this year to provide workshops and training on drug use prevention strategies. Their next meeting is scheduled for January in Thailand.

“When you’ve got this kind of a problem going on overseas or across the border it doesn’t take long for it to come home,” Crano said. “So from a purely self-interested point of view it makes sense for us here in the United States to try to get a handle on this. And it’s also the case that many of these countries are our allies, and to the extent that they’re having problems it’s a major problem for us as well.”

Universal Prevention Curriculum for Substance Use Development Meeting

From left: Brian Morales, foreign affairs officer, Office of Anti-Crime Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Richard Spoth, director of the Partnerships in Prevention Science Institute, University of Iowa; Doug Coatsworth, professor, the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Colorado State University; William D. Crano, Oskamp Professor and chair, Department of Psychology, Claremont Graduate University; Zili Sloboda, coordinator of the Universal Prevention Curriculum for Substance Use, Dept. of State; Rebekah K. Hersch, VP: ISA Group; Tay Bin How, director, Asian Centre for Certification and Education of Addiction Professionals, Drug Advisory Programme, The Colombo Plan Secretariat; Chris Ringwalt, public health senior research scientist, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

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