Iceland has produced some impressive statistics. From 1998 to 2016, the percentage of 15-16-year-old Icelandic youth who used cannabis fell from 17 percent to five percent. The percentage of youth who were drunk in the past 30 days dropped from 42 percent to five percent. Daily cigarette smoking decreased from 23 percent to three percent.
What are they doing up there in Iceland that produces these phenomenal results?
A New Plan
Back in the 90’s, these stats were rising at an alarming rate. Policy makers, practitioners, and researchers decided they needed to do something to reverse this trend. So, they came up with a new approach.
Rather than three separate entities that rarely knew (or cared) what the other pieces were doing, they wanted to combine their strengths and work together to help the nation’s youth. The new model would create a healthy cycle that allows researchers to inform policy makers, who can then steer practitioners with policies based on the evidence from research. They reasoned that, with everyone well-informed and working together, the best solutions could be implemented.
They were right.
This healthy dialogue between research, policy, and practice is one of the three pillars of the Icelandic model. The other pillars are evidence-based practice and using a community-based approach.
These pillars are put into practice with a “Life and Living Conditions of Youth” annual survey. Teens 10 to 16 years of age complete this comprehensive survey each year (with an 85-87 percent response rate). The questions cover risk and protective factors including self-esteem, leisure time activities, quality of parental supervision, neighborhood characteristics, anxiety, attitudes about school, etc. This information is analyzed to show what factors are the strongest predictors of substance abuse.
And...it’s done quickly. Within about two months, the data is processed and the report is shared with municipalities. Researchers are in regular communication with contacts in each municipality to inform them about the latest research and data. When the annual report comes in, researchers go through the data with them. These contacts then gather practitioners such as healthcare workers, teachers, politicians, parents, and others from the community to talk about the current situation – what children are feeling, where they're struggling, what's on the rise, etc. These groups take action as soon as possible in order to intervene in problem areas.
Based on their results, this system is working.
Following Their Lead
To achieve similar results in our country, experts recommend the following high-impact efforts:
- Minimize unsupervised adolescent time periods
- Create more frequent and structured activity
- Delay ‘first drink’ onset
- Base efforts at the community level
- Get elected leadership on board with these efforts
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