The Prevention Science and Methodology Group is funded by both the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop biostatistical methods and designs to evaluate preventive interventions in mental health, drug abuse, suicide, and related outcomes. PSMG has been funded for 16 years, and it works closely with existing prevention research centers across the country. Directed by Dr. C. Hendricks Brown, PSMG is centered at the University of South Florida and involves a network of researchers at UCLA, Johns Hopkins, the Oregon Social Learning Center, American Institutes for Research, Harvard University, and the University of Miami. PSMG has pioneered the development of new randomized preventive trial designs aimed particularly at classrooms and schools. Such trials have become the standard for scientific evaluation of preventive interventions, particularly those that are closely integrated within communities. These intervention trials have been aimed at key early risk factors of aggression, drug use, depression, and suicide. Most of these interventions are aimed at the beginning of elementary school since the long-term continuity and progression of behavioral problems and psychiatric symptoms suggests intervening well before the visible onset of serious drug problems and the like. These early interventions have successfully reduced smoking behavior 9 years later by as much as 40%, thus indicating the importance of early intervention. Other interventions we are testing include the first randomized study of a school-based gatekeeper training program to prevent suicide in middle and high schools.
PSMG is also involved in developing new statistical methodology for examining the course of aggression, drug use, and depression from childhood to adulthood. These methods, called growth curves, can identify precisely who benefits from a particular intervention. For example, a two-year full classroom-based intervention focusing on behavior and achievement for first and second graders had its largest impact on children who started their school years with high levels of aggression. Such universal interventions, which are aimed at full populations, can be particularly effective in reducing the risk of poor outcomes among those who early on have serious problems. This approach contrasts strongly with the usual practice of ability tracking and the use of special classes to separate out children who are exhibiting problems.
PSMG is involved in training prevention scientists in the design, conduct, and analysis of preventive trials and early intervention trials. We provide doctoral and masters level courses at the University of South Florida as well as ongoing advanced training at professional meetings and through satellite.