Date of Award

Summer 8-13-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


Public Health

First Advisor

Sheryl Strasser, PhD, MPH, MSW, CHES, CPHQ

Second Advisor

Megan O. Smith, MPH


INTRODUCTION: Marijuana use, although illegal in the majority of states, is increasingly becoming acceptable for use in the United States. There are dangerous public health consequences associated with marijuana use—including: impaired driving, loss of productivity in workplaces and school settings, as well as mental health impacts. In Atlanta, the majority of residents (54.0%) are African American. Emergency room use is double for African American Fulton County residents compared to their Caucasian counterparts and approximately 1/5 of the total population receiving public health treatment identify marijuana as the primary drug of use, with 57% of those being African Americans. Despite these statistics, the availability of treatment and prevention programs targeting African Americans using marijuana is negligible.
AIM: The purpose of this study is to synthesize evidence-based approaches to substance use treatment so that effective components of previous research can be incorporated into an innovative marijuana prevention program to increase post-treatment abstinence targeting a segment of the population that has not been a significant focus in intervention research.

METHODS: A review of scientific literature was conducted to identify and appraise evidence based approaches to substance use among young adults. First, the student researcher examined programs targeting marijuana use. Second, the search was expanded to substance use in general. The student researcher identified the population, intervention, control arm, and outcomes of various studies focusing on substance use prevention in a variety of settings. With this appraisal, the most effective components are suggested for a marijuana specific program which could be offered to African-American young adults, as no current programs in Georgia were found.

RESULTS: Substance abuse intervention approaches targeting young adult populations were identified. Programs are delivered in a variety of settings: family, school, and community. Evidence supports that cognitive behavioral training, motivational enhancement training, and contingency management are the most effective approaches targeting substance use among young adults. A program that integrates components of each approach would be ideal for targeting African American young adults using marijuana in Metro-Atlanta and assisting them to maintain abstinence post-treatment.

DISCUSSION: The results from this study emphasize key program elements that can address marijuana addiction among African American young adults in Metro-Atlanta. As marijuana acceptance increases, the need for prevention programs becomes more urgent. This study’s results can assist program planners in understanding the most strategic interventions that would optimize return on investment when addressing a largely silent public health threat: marijuana use among Africa American young adults in Metro-Atlanta.