Communities Are Leading the Way to Prevent Youth Substance Use

The Drug-Free Communities Program is the nation’s leading effort to support communities working to prevent youth substance use.

illustration of group of people

The Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Program is a nationwide effort, led by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to provide funding and support to community coalitions in their work to prevent and reduce youth substance use. The DFC Program goals are to:

  • Establish and strengthen collaboration among communities, public and private non-profit agencies, and Federal, state, local and tribal governments to support community coalitions working to prevent and reduce youth substance use.
  • Reduce substance use among youth by addressing the factors in a community that increase risk for substance use and promoting factors that minimize risk for substance use.

While youth substance use has declined over time, recent data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) show:

  • More than 29% of high school students consumed alcohol
  • Almost 14% engaged in binge drinking
  • About 37 of every 100 high school students reported current use of a tobacco product, mainly driven by e-cigarette use
  • Approximately 22% reported current marijuana use
  • 7% reported current prescription opioid misuse1

Recent data have shown that drug overdose deaths have doubled among young people aged 15-19 from 2019-2020.§ In addition, more than 1 in 3 high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic and nearly half of students felt persistently sad or hopeless, putting them at increased risk for substance use.2 DFC coalitions are uniquely situated to leverage historical knowledge of their communities to address youth substance use by implementing evidence-based strategies and activities at the community level.

§ Data source: National Vital Statistics System Mortality File, CDC

Empowering Local Leaders to Implement Local Solutions

The DFC Program supports communities in addressing problems associated with youth substance use by providing funding to over 700 coalitions nationwide. Coalitions are eligible to receive up to 10 years of funding to promote positive youth engagement and address the local conditions that drive youth substance use. Coalition leaders work together with representatives from 12 sectors to ensure that a broad range of community expertise is included. The 12 sectors are youth, parents, business, media, school, youth-serving organizations, law enforcement, religious or fraternal organizations, civic or volunteer groups, healthcare professionals, state or local agencies, and other local organizations. Working together, DFC coalitions empower local leaders to build communities that foster a safe environment for young folks to learn, grow, and thrive.

Coalition work is guided by evidence-based frameworks such as the Seven Strategies for Community Change [PDF – 2 pages] developed by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and the Strategic Prevention Framework [PDF – 45 pages] developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and includes activities like

  • Changing community-wide policies
  • Changing school policies
  • Designing communication campaigns
  • Hosting drug-free social events
  • Identifying opportunities for youth to engage in community change
  • Offering youth and parent education and training

These policies and activities can help address risk factors for youth substance use, such as the availability and cost of alcohol and drugs, and promote protective factors, such as strong relationships with trusted adults.1,3

Coalitions Are Making an Impact

Youth engagement is critical to youth substance use prevention. Over two-thirds (67%) of coalitions reported hosting a youth coalition, and these same coalitions reported significantly higher levels of youth, law enforcement, parent, and school sector involvement.

Evaluation findings reported annually indicate that the DFC program is making a difference in local communities. DFC coalitions reported that substance use declined among young people living in their communities and that they significantly increased the number of young people who choose not to use substances.4

two-thirds of coalitions reported hosting a youth coalition
More Information

For more information about the DFC Program National Evaluation, visit ONDCP. To see if there is a DFC coalition near you, see Drug-Free Communities Coalitions.

If you are involved in a community coalition and are interested in applying, visit the Funding Announcements page for upcoming opportunities.

Access the latest guideline, data, and resources