Prevention Profiles: Take Five - Dave Closson (Mid-America Prevention Technology Transfer Center)


Dave Closson

Audio file

Dave Closson, who serves as Director of the Mid-America Prevention Technology Transfer Center, returns as a guest for this month's podcast episode. During the interview Dave, a military veteran, talks about what campus prevention professionals need to be mindful of when working with students who have recently returned from a deployment, online resources for veterans, and gives advice about collaborating with law enforcement.

Check out resouces mentioned in this podcast.


Rich Lucey: Hi, everyone. 


This is Rich Lucey in the Drug Enforcement Administration's Community Outreach and Prevention Support Section, and welcome to this episode of our podcast series Prevention Profile: Take Five.  

I'm excited about today's guest, a longtime friend and colleague. 
Let me tell you a little bit about Dave Closson. 
So Dave is Director of the Mid-America Prevention Technology Transfer Center, which is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 
The PTTC as it is known serves as a prevention catalyst empowering individuals and fostering partnerships to promote safe, healthy and drug-free communities across Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. 
Dave brings a unique experience to substance misuse prevention having served as a police officer at Eastern Illinois University, and Dave is proud to have served in the Illinois Army National Guard for six years and he was deployed under Operation Iraqi Freedom. 
And with that, Dave, welcome back to the podcast series. 

Dave Closson: Yes, thanks for having me, glad to be back. 
Lucey: And this is, it's hard to believe it's been three years since you last were on. 

I know that we just started our fourth season this past January. 

You were one of our initial guests in that first year. 

It's hard to believe that was so long ago. 

Seems like yesterday. 

Dave: Yes, it does. 

It does. 

It seems like it was just yesterday, but also looking back it's fun to see how campus drug prevention has grown over the years. 

Lucey: Absolutely, and you have played a role in that along with several others around the country who have given DEA some advice and guidance on all the different resources that we develop for the field, and we really thank you for that. 

So you know the drill here. 

The podcast, this episode is based around five different questions and we're going to just dive right into the first one. 

So last November in honor of Veterans Day you wrote A View From the Field for 


First I want to thank you for openly sharing your personal story of suffering a traumatic brain injury and challenges that you faced with PTSD and alcohol misuse following your combat deployment. 

With June being PTSD Awareness Month, I'd like to touch on that as we get started. 
So what would you say prevention professionals need to be mindful of when they're working with students who have recently returned from a military deployment and may be struggling with these issues? 

Dave: Great, great question and great place to start. 

Really I would just; I've run into the culture and everyday life of your average person, your average student is really a million miles away from an active duty member of the military or veteran returning from a combat deployment. 

And when you add that layer of being a college student, it is completely different planets. 

But one thing to keep in mind is look at the risk and protective factors for college students. 

They can often be very different from those of us military veterans. 

So I would say take time to really explore and understand those unique risk and protective factors. 

Sometimes they're kind of conflicting a little bit. 

My experiences in combat and my memories of being a soldier could be a risk factor but also that discipline, that mission oriented, that mission focus, the accountability that I learned through my military service can be a protective factor. 

And the more, through my journey the more I leaned into those strengths as a protective factor they really helped support me and keep me on the path and really helped me become who I am today. 

So really get to know your student veterans and identify those factors and learn how you can use those to manage those destructive tendencies. 

And I'd probably also offer for the prevention professionals to really just consider the culture that veterans are coming from before you design a program for student veterans. 

You want to make sure it's grounded in evidence-based strategies, but you want to make sure it also is culturally relevant and fits for student veterans themselves. 

And the biggest thing and I won't get too personal here, but trust is so, so  critical, especially with veterans. 

I returned. 


I really didn't have much of a warning of what life would be like and how it  would change when I came back to campus. 

And it was tough feeling like I belonged, feeling like I fit in and feeling like  those services on campus were for me. 

And so build trust with your student veterans. 

Get to know them. 

Build relationships and just work to understand their perspectives so then you  can tailor your prevention efforts to better support them. 

Lucey: Thank you for that. 

There's so much that I want to unpack from all that, and I'm just trying to  figure out where to start. 

So first of all, one of the few follow-up questions. 

Are you aware, and I never like to presume but, of some go to resources that you  can let us know about that we can drop in the show notes or in the transcript of  the types of resources to help equip the prevention professionals to better prepare them if you will, as you said to get to understand and consider the culture that a student veteran is coming back from? 

Are you aware? 

What are the go to resources? 

Dave: Definitely. 

So the VA has put together a multitude of resources for veterans but then also for those that serve and support veterans and their family members. 

They have a VA campus toolkit specifically for serving student veterans. 

It's available on their website. 

It's a great resource. 

Within that resource they have links out to other supporting resources as well, one of those being Make the Connection. 

I believe it's dot net or dot org. 

But Make the Connection has stories from veterans sharing their own stories and talking about their journey and what has worked for them with the sense that professionals that serve and support veterans can better understand the veterans that they serve. 

And the nice little caveat is that it also lets other veterans know that they're not alone with those feelings, those challenges and those barriers. 

So those are the two right off the top of my head that I would definitely recommend. 


Lucey: Thank you for that. 

And we'll be sure to include those as I said in the post about this particular interview. 

There was something else that you said that I had thought about, not particularly in the context of student veterans, but I think that risk and protective factors well researched have been around for almost now three decades. 

It's what helps drive our prevention science. 

And I think that sometimes what can be seen as a protective factor might also be considered a risk factor, maybe vice versa. 

But I think for example a protective factor is a strong bond to your school, right? 

That's one of the protective factors. 

And yet I think of again going back to traditional pre-pandemic times, right, of a student or a school with a very strong and highly visible athletics program. 

And whether it's a basketball; we think of March Madness. 

That strong connection to school and that school spirit also might be the risk  factor when you loop in the alcohol issues and some of the other drug issues that occur around those types of events. 

So can it be like two sides of the same coin if you will? 

Dave: I feel like we could talk about that for hours. 

But definitely it could be. 

Just like you said, two sides of the coin and being able to look at them from both perspectives and then take that into account as you design your preventionbprogramming has some real potential, real power in it. 

Lucey: And the last thing I wanted to mention just on this particular question, so I believe obviously reading and watching the news, I believe that the plan is to pull all of our troops out of Afghanistan later this year. 

I believe that's the plan. 

So with that being said, I bring it up just the notion that again we know that data drives programming, right? 

And so we always need to be paying attention to the data so we know where to focus our efforts. 

I think an influx of returning individuals from military service potentially being on the college campus again could be something that we need to be mindful of and paying attention to because the population, this particular population may increase over the next year to three or so. 

Would you agree on that? 

Dave: I would definitely agree. 

And the educational benefits for veterans are growing very robust and easier to access so that will also add to likely an influx of more veterans returning to campus as well. 

And a quick little note too, as you think about your student veterans, who they might be, they are likely going to be older than your traditional student. 

They have life experiences unlike your traditional students. 

Many of them have families and kids as well. 

So there's a lot to unpack to get to know about your veterans. 

Lucey: Absolutely. 

Well, I'm going to pivot to the next question which is moving off of the military side of you and it's the law enforcement side and your experiences there. 

So as I mentioned in your bio, looking back over your career as a campus police officer and then devoting the majority of your efforts in prevention which is the entire time I've known you has been kind of in the prevention space. 

What has been; I don't really want to lock you into one answer, but could you come up with one success and one big challenge that you face in trying to build the connection between law enforcement and prevention? 

Dave: Mm-hmm, yes, okay. 

So one success. 

The first thing that popped in my mind would be what we call the EIU Mayhem Prevention Team.

And it's a good thing this is just an audio podcast not video because there are some great YouTube videos of myself when I was a crime prevention officer wearing a three-piece suit and blue school spirit wig. 

Might even have rappelled off of some buildings. 

So it was a fun, fun project. 

But really the core of it was collaboration. 

The team was our campus police, myself and our local city police along with our student conduct, housing, counseling center and the health education resource center. 


We all came together, pulled our resources and put together this social media, YouTube and poster campaign for campus. 

And some of the cool things about that, yes, it was fun but me as a police officer at the time didn't know anything about evidence-based prevention or 

prevention messaging. 

And same thing for the local city police. 

But because we had that partnership, we had that capacity, they were able to line me out so I could do a better job in my messaging and my presentations. 

And we were able to do just some really cool stuff, and it all came from that collaboration, coming together and understanding how we fit in that bigger picture, that comprehensive approach, which that could be a whole other little caveat I could go down but I won't. 

Some of the fun things that came out of that collaboration too were cross- training, learning about student standards, student conduct. 

What they did, how they operated, why they did what they did helped better my job as a police officer. 

When I was interacting with students, I understood the process. 

I understood the "why" so I could explain it, but I also trusted in it and I believed in it because I knew what it was. 

And it really opened the doors for me as police officer to have some great positive interactions with students.

I got to co-present to incoming freshmen, to the incoming freshmen parents, all the incoming athletes because of these partnerships and collaborations. 

So it opened the door to so much more. 

So that's why it would definitely be one of my favorite things as a campus police officer was to be a good success there. 

You asked about the flip side, a challenge. 

Sort of goes right back to before we had those great relationships and that collaboration. 

A challenge was me as a police officer getting a seat at the table, getting invited and being able to really get involved.

It came down to simple things like our workload. 

Folks were busy. 

We had different schedules. 

I was on second shift or I was working midnight shift. 

And lack of buy-in from the department. 


But a lot of that really came from not understanding prevention, the big picture, and seeing and knowing where I as a police officer fit and the different places that I could fit, not just enforcement but really getting out there in all of the prevention programming. 

I guess to sum that all up, not having those relationships established with campus partners.

If we had had those relationships, it would've been a lot easier to get invited  to the table and get involved right out of the gate, right at the get go. 

Lucey: So I wanted to jump off of that challenge you've mentioned. 

So getting a seat at the table. 

Do you think that was more the prevention professionals not sure what value could be added and therefore hesitant to invite you to the table and/or is it law enforcement, other priorities, other areas of focus? 

Hard to come to the table maybe at the times when the meetings are happening or things like that? 

A mix of both probably? 

Dave: I would say all of the above. 

Kind of making some assumptions, but from my perspective I saw it time after time. 

The prevention professionals would come knock on our door at the police department and say, hey, we've done an assessment. 

We've done some strategic planning. 

We need you to do this. 

Go do compliance checks. 

And wait, what? 

We weren't involved from the beginning? 

Why that wasn't done I can't say. 

So if you are a prevention professional going through your strategic planning  process, get law enforcement at the table right out of the gate. 

Get them involved in the assessment. 

But then also from my side of the table, law enforcement as a whole, our department, we really didn't see or understand prevention so we didn't know what doors to knock on to ask. 

We didn't know what tables we wanted to be at either. 

We would get some invites and probably looking like, why do we need to be there? 

But it's because we didn't understand prevention and how, what value we could bring to the table. 

Lucey: I think of the story that I've mentioned Fran Harding before. 

She often tells the story of when she was working in New York of, it was a statewide coalition and it was one of the either state police or sheriff's associations. 

And the rep would come to the meeting and sit there and be very quiet and not say anything, not say much, not contribute much. 

Did that for like a good three or four meetings and to the point then that Fran ultimately asked him and said, you know, are you getting anything out of this? 

Is this helping? 

And once she had the conversation, then he began to start to see where he could fit. 

Not he as an individual but perhaps he as the law enforcement representative if you will.

So it's again going back to having those intentional conversations with the individuals.

We talk about that and actually it's going to segue into my next question about strategic planning which is know why you're inviting people to the table because they're going to ask you, what's in it for me? 

I think that's kind of natural. 

You need to be able to answer the question, right? 

Dave: Mm-hmm, absolutely. 

And it was fun. 

The more I built relationships and we had those conversations the more I started seeing myself like, ooh, can I be a part of that? 

Oh, I want to be a part of that. 

Hey, will you guys come help me out with this project or this presentation? 

Because as a crime prevention officer, I was getting asked to do training, presentations for Greek Life, for athletics, for housing on crime prevention. 

But a big part of that really is about substance misuse. 

And I didn't have prevention background. 

didn't have prevention training. 


And so once I realized what prevention was, like, hey, you all need to be a part of this with me because I don't know it all and I need your help. 

And that just improved the quality and effectiveness of our presentations. 

But it came from conversations, getting to know each other. 

Lucey: Well, let me move onto my third question because I started to touch on this, and you are so immersed in this process which is why you're one of my go to people when I want to talk about strategic planning and the strategic prevention framework and such.

So as part of the work that I know you do with the PTTC, you help colleges and universities as well as their surrounding communities with strategic planning, which really is the foundation, we know, for effective prevention efforts. 

What aspects of strategic planning do colleges and universities struggle with the most and what guidance do you give them? 

Dave: Can we do a whole other episode just on this? 

Okay, clear and concise. 

First being if you all already haven't picked up on it, it starts with building your capacity, meaning relationship. 

Before you even get to strategic planning, you've got to have that foundation. 

You can't just jump in and let's make a plan. 

But then following on that, I would probably go to say folks are challenged with taking that comprehensive approach to prevention. 

I feel like we get a lot of pressure from administration. 

Just do something. 

And we can have tunnel vision on one specific strategy, one specific program. 

And we all know comprehensive approach is where it's at. 

We want to have that widespread reach. 

We want to reach multiple domains and have cultural relevance to all of our student populations that we serve.

And that kind of leads into that comprehensive approach. 

You might have it. 

The prevention professional might understand it and see that big picture. 

But being able to communicate that big picture and articulate that comprehensive approach to those stakeholders on campus can also be a challenge. 


And one of the great ways to do that is a logic model. 

I know some folks cringe when they hear that word, logic model. 

It's a graphic planning tool. 

It's a road map. 

And it's a great way to communicate that comprehensive approach to your campus partners, your community partners, to show that big picture view of how everything aligns, how it all fits and how it all works. 

So that would be my cliff notes version, for those that remember what cliff notes are, to the aspects that folks might struggle with when it comes to strategic planning for colleges and universities. 

Lucey: So a couple of things that you mentioned. 

First of all, for those of you who are listening, if you're not aware, and this is an absolutely 100% shameless plug of our publication, Prevention With Purpose, which you can download from 

It couples the strategic prevention framework with preventing drug misuse among college students. 

You mentioned the logic model, and I know for some people they want to run screaming from the room or their eyes glaze over when they hear that phrase. 

And when I'm doing presentations about the guide, one of the things I'll tell them is, you know, a good chunk of the work has already been done for you with the template that we've provided in the online version of the guide. 

And so not to minimize how easy putting a logic model together is, but the structure is already put together for you. 

You simply have to get in there and start filling in the boxes. 

That's the harder work. 

But we've done a good chunk of the work for you by providing such a template. 

So I'm glad that you brought that up. 

You also mentioned, so a friend a colleague of ours, Joan Masters. 

And I've told Joan that I was going to steal this from her when I interviewed her earlier this year for our commemorative episode back in January. 

And we talk about strategic planning and I said I think sometimes people might feel overwhelmed by the threat of all that goes into strategic planning. 

You talked about it, right? 



And she said I totally get that and I try to guide people. 

She's overseeing Missouri's statewide efforts. 

She talks about incremental strategic planning. 

And I just loved that phrase, that it was you don't have to do it all at once in one big, huge chunk. 

As long as you're being strategic, you can do it in little, little chunks. 

Has that kind of been your experience? 

Dave: Yes, and just reminded me one of the other things is so important that comes with strategic planning is to have an actual process. 

Have a plan. 

Have a framework that you're going to follow. 

I've seen folks say let's do strategic planning. 

So they set up a meeting. 

They call come together, like all right, let's figure out what our plan is. 

But they didn't have a process or anything to guide that process, a way to develop their strategic plan. 

So having an intentional design, a method that you're going to go about doing it, and absolutely build in the incremental steps to creating your strategic plan. 

Beautiful things are going to come from that. 

Lucey: Absolutely. 

I'm going to move onto my next question because I'm intrigued about this particular resource that the PTTC has. 

So I noticed that your region of the PTTC has been hosting a lineup of these various communities of practice. 

So can you tell us a little bit more about those and what you hope results from these? 

Dave: Yes indeed. 

I actually did a PTTC podcast episode unpacking this as well. 

But to go back to when I first stepped into this role as the director for our region, I saw an opportunity. 

We are a brand new TA system. 


We didn't have any existing this is how we've always done it approach to provide an RTTA. 

And to me that created a great opportunity to help shape the culture of our region, our prevention leaders because there wasn't a preexisting relationship. 

The culture wasn't there. 

And so our goal, we kind of started with why. 

Yes, we're funded by SAMHSA to provide substance misuse prevention training and technical assistance. 

That's what we do. 

But why we do what we do is, the goal is to create a culture of community across our region so that we can support each other in making our communities safer and healthier. 

That's why we do what we do. 

And we believe that prevention is better together and that together we are stronger. 

So when it comes to how we do what we do in our region, we like to leverage technology to really foster and build connections. 

Create those new partnerships. 

Break down those silos. 

Create collaboration. 

And the reason we went with community as our goal, culture of community, is that collaboration is great and you've probably heard folks say that that's the only way to move the prevention needle.

But we're pushing for community because that's that stronger sense of togetherness, shared values, shared missions, shared goals. 

That's when you can pick up the phone and call them and say, hey, can you give me a hand with this? 

And they're there to help and support you. 

Collaboration is more focused on the project, a specific goal, coming together to work on it. 

But we want that sense of togetherness because it doesn't matter if you're a rural, small, one-person prevention team on a campus clear up to state level, regional level leadership. 

We're all on the same team. 

And the more we come together and support each other the bigger impacts we can have. 


And so the communities of practice are one of our ways to do that, ways to help foster innovation, shared and peer learning and connection. 

Where great ideas come from is through discussion. 

So we offer a few different series. 

One's for coalition and community level prevention professionals. 

And then we have our TTA providers. 

We have our prevention leaders. 

And we also have one for the entire behavioral health workforce. 

A chance for folks from treatment to join us, from the mental health field, from the community, from campuses to bring everybody together because we really do want to create that culture of community. 

And this is a big old soapbox I get really passionate about. 

I could just ramble about this for hours and hours. 

But you could also drill this down to look at, what is the culture of your prevention team on your campus? 

When you look at a culture, it's the display of behaviors. 

When you look at your team, your campus and think about the culture, what are the norms? 

How do you operate? 

Do you have that always happy to help approach? 

Do folks know that they can turn to you? 

Do they know that you're data driven? 

Do they know you're always going to be grounded in logic? 

You can shape your prevention team's culture to foster and break down those silos to create that connection as well. 

I'm going to hit pause because I get really fired up about this stuff. 

But yes, really passionate about it because the more we come together the better off we're all going to be. 

Lucey: So what I was; as you were talking about collaboration and communities and partnership, one of the other things that we have available in the guide and I believe it's in the online version of the guide, there are varying levels of collaboration, formal and informal. 

And the guide talks about it. 

I believe there's five if I'm not mistaken. 


Maybe it's four. 

But it goes from the informal collaboration to actual collaboration to more formal partnerships. 

I mean it's all along these stages if you will. 

And that's what I was thinking of whereas community feels like the ultimate to me. 

That's why when you were talking about it, for me community of practice feels like everybody's firing on all cylinders. 

Not to say there aren't hiccups. 

There always are. 

But that seems like community is the most cohesive.

That's just how I, how I interpret that. 

Is that kind of what your thinking is on that? 

Dave: Yes, exactly. 

And from that sense of community, that togetherness, will emerge different collaborations for different projects. 

So as we're all coming together around prevention and we start working the spiff or just through conversation, ideas emerge, new ideas, innovations, ideas for new collaborations. 

So those that from that community that have a tie to that new project collaborate on that project based on their role. 

Their level of collaboration will determine; it will be determined based on that project. 

But they're all still a part of that community. 

Lucey: You also mentioned it's become a phrase that you used in plenty of different venues, and I've borrowed it in presentations that I've done and such. 

You talk about prevention is better together. 

And that just wraps right up the whole issue of collaboration, partnership, community. 

Really kind of whatever stage you're at, the basic foundation is that prevention is better together. 

Dave: Absolutely, absolutely. 

Lucey: So winding up now I'll move onto the fifth question here, the fifth formal question. 


A lot of offshoot questions up to this point, but it's the question I like to end with for with all of the guests on the podcast series which is sort of the advice, guidance, call to action type of question. 

So what advice do you want to give our listeners around collaborating with law enforcement personnel who are working to prevent drug misuse among college students?

Dave: I might have longwinded answers for the past questions but this one's pretty simple. 

It comes down to relationships and to seek first to understand and then be understood.

That's from a book. 

I wish I could quote that exact book off the top of my head. 

Sorry about that. 

But it is that. 

Build relationships. 

Make that your goal not I want to get them to the table. 

I want them to do this strategy for me. 

Build a relationship with that. 

And that's going to come from understanding their perspectives, understanding their roles, understanding what life is like behind the wheel of a squad car. 

And there's a lot of different ways you can go about building that relationship and understanding. 

But it starts there because then from that foundation, you'll start to build trust. 

And from that trust, that's going to be the foundation for any working relationship. 

Lucey: Thank you for that. 

And I really want to just now have a bonus question without putting you on the spot. 

But I feel you won't have any problem answering it since we started the interview on this particular topic. 

So let's kind of circle back, but it's in this same vein. 

So as prevention professionals are looking to support and provide services and involve students who may be returning from a military deployment, what's the advice or takeaway that you want to have for the listeners on working with those students? 


Dave: First off being meet them where they are, where they're going to be at. 

If you put up a flyer and invite them to come to you, it's going to be hard to really engage the veteran. 

So meet them where they're at. 

Look on your campus where they're going to be. 

In the virtual space, in your virtual community on campus, where are those student veterans going to be at?

And if you wanted to look for a likely area, is there a student veterans group? 

Go to your VA office on campus where they access benefits, where they get support for their benefits.

That's a great place and it opens the door for you to be able to help support those veterans.

Right then and there offer some solutions. 

Provide some help. 

And actually benefits can be one of the biggest stressors for veterans returning back to campus.

Yeah, meet them where they're at and just seek to understand. 

Lucey: Well, Dave, again it's hard to believe the amount of time that's gone by in the interview.

We can only pack so much information. 

And your answers as always so much on point, excellent takeaways and messaging, terrific resources. 

Again I've appreciated our friendship and partnership over the last several years so once again thank you for coming back onto the podcast series. 

We really do appreciate having you here. 

Dave: It's an honor to be here and thank you very much. 

And y'all remember prevention is better together, and together we are stronger. 

I had to say it one more time. 

Lucey: Absolutely. 

I figure that's your mic drop moment. 

Dave: Yep, exactly. 

Thank y'all very much for having me. 

Lucey: Thanks again, Dave. 


And for our listeners, I hope you have enjoyed this episode of Prevention Profiles: Take Five. 

Thank you again for listening and I wish you a great day. 


Resources mentioned in this podcast include:

VA College Toolkit
VA Mobile Apps
Make the Connection
Prevention With Purpose