Despite the perception that youth substance abuse is most problematic in urban areas, research consistently indicates that rural communities experience rates of youth substance use that equal, and in some cases exceed, those observed in urban communities.
The health risks associated with early onset substance use experimentation are well documented. Developmental research clearly shows that drinking and smoking in early adolescence are associated with a host of negative outcomes, including progression to illegal substances, school drop-out, delinquent behavior, health risk behaviors such as risky sex and driving while intoxicated, and low levels of vocational attainment and workforce participation.
Pennsylvania is a largely rural state with several large metropolitan areas. In 2010, nearly 27% of the state’s residents lived in one of 48 rural counties. Like much of the nation, the Commonwealth is in the throes of a severe opioid epidemic, with heroin the leading cause of drug fatalities in 2014. Furthermore, of the 20 counties with the highest rates of opioid deaths, 12 are in rural areas. Pennsylvania now ranks sixth in the nation in rates of drug-related deaths, with 189.9 fatalities per 100,000 people. Thus, substance abuse represents a significant, contemporary public health emergency in the Commonwealth.
This project expanded the presence of PROSPER (PRomoting School-university-community Partnerships to Enhance Resilience) into a larger number of rural counties in an effort to lessen substance abuse and health and behavioral problems among rural youth and encourage healthy development and family strengths.
PROSPER began in Pennsylvania in 2001 as a large, federally funded dissemination project engaging rural youth in two states: Pennsylvania and Iowa. Its goal is to promote healthy development and avoid long-term health and behavioral problems in rural youth through universal, evidence-based interventions. PROSPER utilizes a community partnership model that engages schools, community stakeholders, CES leadership, and university-based prevention scientists in implementing universal, evidence-based interventions in rural communities in Pennsylvania. Programs are delivered under the leadership of the Penn State Cooperative Extension System.