Stream Description

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Anxiety, depressive and substance use disorders account for three quarters of the disability attributed to mental disorders. The peak of this disability occurs in those 15-24 years old and corresponds with the typical period of onset of these problems. Critically, anxiety, depression and substance use disorders share common risk factors.

To reduce the occurrence and cost of such disorders, preventative interventions need to begin early, before the problems begin to cause disability, and vocational, educational and social harm.  To date, the focus of our research has been on developing and evaluating universal internet-based programs to prevent substance use and related harms in adolescents. Our most recent trial involves combining these universal programs with selective personality-targeted interventions with an aim of maximising outcomes for both high and low risk youth.


Completed Projects

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Illicit drug resources for teachers, students and parents

Funding Body: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing

The aim of this project was to develop, test and deliver an illicit drugs resource package for use by teachers, parents, and high school students. The project included the development of information booklets as well as an interactive game for young people to teach them about the harms associated with illicit drugs. 

In 2013, focus groups were conducted with Year 10 students, parents and teachers to obtain feedback on the booklet content and design. This feedback was incorporated and final booklets were launched electronically in June 2014. In November 2014, 60 copies of the booklets were distributed to every secondary school in Australia. 

In 2013, student focus groups were conducted to gain feedback and suggestions for the development of an interactive drug education game. This student input informed development of the game “Pure Rush” in collaboration with the game development company 2and2. Pure Rush is targeted at Year 8-10 students and contains educational messages about the potential harms of cannabis, methamphetamine, hallucinogens and pills such as ecstasy. The game differs from the handful of existing drug education games in its use of  the popular “race” genre rather than role playing; and its emphasis on interactive learning, with characters experiencing the effects of any illicit drugs they collide with (e.g. cannabis slows them down). Focus testing with Year 9 students was conducted in 2014 with a prototype version and later the final game to gain feedback and assess benefits associated with gameplay. The game was released in June 2014, and can be played online, or installed as an app for iOS or Android. 

Access the drug education booklets for teachers, parents and students.

Access the Pure Rush interactive drug education game. 

Project Contacts: A/Prof Nicola Newton

Ongoing Projects

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The Climate Schools Combined (CSC) study: Internet-based prevention for anxiety, depression and substance use in young Australians

Prof Gavin Andrews, Prof Steve Allsop and Dr Nyanda McBride
Funding Body: National Health and Medical Research Council

Anxiety, depressive and substance use disorders account for three quarters of the disability attributed to mental disorders.  Moreover, research indicates that these disorders are often comorbid, share common risk factors and interact. The peak of these disorders occurs in those aged 15-24 years old, which also corresponds with the typical period of onset. It is therefore important that effective preventative interventions begin early, before patterns of mental health and substance use disorder symptoms are established and begin to cause disability, as well as vocational, educational and social harm.

An array of preventative interventions for these disorders currently exists, however the effectiveness of these programs is contentious. Furthermore, interventions are typically designed to target a single disorder at one time and there are few effective preventive programs which concurrently target these common disorders. The current study aims to address this gap by evaluating an integrative approach known as the CLIMATE Schools Combined (CSC) intervention, which includes the evidence-based ‘universal’ CLIMATE Schools Substance Use course and the ‘universal’ CLIMATE Schools Mental Health course. It is anticipated that this integrative approach will be more effective in reducing problems and symptoms associated with substance use and mental health disorders compared to the stand-alone interventions and school-based health education as usual. The CSC study will be the first trial, internationally, to develop an integrative model for dissemination in schools across Australia.

Project Contacts: A/Prof Nicola Newton
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Climate Schools Interactive (CSI) study: A cluster randomised controlled trial of the internet-based Climate Schools: Ecstasy & Emerging Drugs Module

Funding Body: National Health and Medical Research Council; Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing

The use of ecstasy is a public health problem and is associated with a range of social costs and harms. Recently, there has been growing concern about the misuse of new psychoactive substances (NPS) designed to mimic the effects of illicit drugs, including ecstasy. The CSI Study aims to evaluate the efficacy of the first online school-based prevention program for ecstasy and NPS, known as the Climate Schools; Ecstasy & Emerging Drugs module.

Progress/Findings: The CSI Study commenced in 2014, with students at participating schools (n=11 schools, 1126 students) completing an online self-report baseline survey. Intervention schools (n=5) successfully implemented the Climate Schools: Ecstasy and Emerging Drugs Module between March and May and positive feedback was received from both teachers and students about the program. Students completed a survey immediately after the intervention survey, as well as a 6- and 12-month follow-up survey. A fifth and final survey was completed in 2016, which provides 24-month follow-up data for the cohort.

Project Contacts: Dr Katrina Champion
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Positive Choices: National Drug Prevention Online Portal

Dr Nyanda McBride, Prof Steve Allsop
Funding Body: Australian Government Department of Health

Positive Choices: National Drug Prevention Online Portal

Providing young people with up-to-date, evidence-based information and support is the best way to prevent the harms associated with drug and alcohol use.  The Department of Health have identified the need for a national portal to help school communities access evidence-based information and drug prevention programs.  The portal was developed in consultation with education and drug and alcohol experts, as well as target users (teachers, parents and students). Research literature and drug education websites were systematically reviewed to identify resources meeting pre-specified inclusion criteria for relevance and quality. The Positive Choicesportal was launched in December 2015 as part of the Australian Government’s drug education and prevention strategy. Regular review and scoping is conducted to ensure the information and resource database is up-to-date, and training opportunities are provided through the quarterly Positive Choices webinar series. Regular updates about relevant research and new resources are available via the subscriber newsletterfacebook and twitter accounts.

The portal is freely accessible at

Project Contacts: Dr Lexine Stapinski


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