Classification systems are tools to help researchers, practitioners, and others think about large-scale problems. To avoid misuse of these tools, and to get the maximum benefit, a classification system's nature, strengths, and weaknesses must be understood. The Institute of Medicine's (IOM) classification of preventive interventions is important to the practice of substance abuse prevention.

Prior to 1994, substance abuse prevention used a public health classification system that designated "primary prevention" as stopping a problem before it starts, "secondary prevention" as stopping a problem early in its course, and "tertiary prevention" as minimizing further injury, disease, or disability among those with a problem. This system was originally designed to apply to physical illness. This system was helpful in some ways, but not easy to apply, especially to ...

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