The Living the Example Social Media Substance Use Prevention Program: A Pilot Evaluation

JMIR Ment Health. 2017 Jun 27;4(2):e24. doi: 10.2196/mental.7839.


Background: Adolescent substance use rates in rural areas of the United States, such as upstate New York, have risen substantially in recent years, calling for new intervention approaches in response to this trend. The Mentor Foundation USA conducts the Living the Example (LTE) campaign to engage youth in prevention using an experiential approach. As part of LTE, youth create their own prevention messages following a training curriculum in techniques for effective messaging and then share them via social media. This paper reports on a pilot evaluation of the LTE program.

Objective: To conduct a pilot test of LTE in two rural high schools in upstate New York. We hypothesized that positive antidrug brand representations could be promoted using social media strategies to complement the Shattering the Myths (STM) in-person, event-based approach (hypothesis 1, H1), and that youth would respond positively and engage with prevention messages disseminated by their peers. We also hypothesized that exposure to the social media prevention messages would be associated with more positive substance use avoidance attitudes and beliefs, reductions in future use intentions, and decreased substance use at posttest (hypothesis 2, H2).

Methods: We adapted a previously published curriculum created by the authors that focuses on branding, messaging, and social media for prevention. The curriculum consisted of five, one-hour sessions. It was delivered to participating youth in five sequential weeks after school at the two high schools in late October and early November 2016. We designed a pre- and posttest pilot implementation study to evaluate the effects of LTE on student uptake of the intervention and short-term substance use and related outcomes. Working at two high schools in upstate New York, we conducted a pilot feasibility evaluation of LTE with 9th-grade students (ie, freshmen) at these high schools. We administered a 125-item questionnaire online to capture data on media use; attitudes toward social media; next 30-day personal drug use intentions; personal reasons to use drugs; reasons participants believe their peers would use drugs; self-reported exposure to the LTE program; and receptivity to the LTE program, among those reporting exposure. We constructed multivariable logistic regression models to analyze the relationship between program receptivity and outcomes. First, in a cross-sectional logistic regression model, we regressed self-reported LTE message receipt on drug use intent and actions related to LTE messaging. Then, for analysis of participants with matched pre- and posttest responses, we used multilevel generalized estimating equation (GEE) techniques to model changes in behavior from baseline to follow-up.

Results: Youth reported increased intentions to use marijuana (odds ratio [OR] 2.134, P=.02) between pre- and posttest. However, youth who reported exposure and receptivity to LTE reported a significant decrease in intentions (OR 0.239, P=.008). We observed a similar pattern for sedatives/sleeping pills-an increase in intentions overall (OR 1.886, P=.07), but a decrease among youth who reported exposure and receptivity to LTE (OR 0.210, P=.02). We saw the same pattern for use of any drug-an increase in reported intentions overall (OR 2.141, P=.02), but a decrease among youth who reported exposure and receptivity to LTE (OR 0.111, P=.004).

Conclusions: We observed some evidence of significant LTE program effects. Social media may be an effective strategy for peer-to-peer substance use prevention in the future. These findings point both to the potential of LTE and the social media diffusion model and to the need for more research on a larger scale with an expanded youth population in the future.

Keywords: adolescence; peer-to-peer education; social media; substance use prevention.