An improved barrier or drug delivery system which is highly adherent to the surface to which it is applied is disclosed, along with methods for making the barrier. In the preferred embodiment, tissue is stained with a photoinitiator, then the polymer solution or gel having added thereto a defined amount of the same or a different photoinitator is applied to the tissue. On exposure to light, the resulting system polymerizes at the surface, giving excellent adherence, and also forms a gel in the rest of the applied volume. Thus a gel barrier of arbitrary thickness can be applied to a surface while maintaining high adherence at the interface. This process is referred to herein as "priming". The polymerizable barrier materials are highly useful for sealing tissue surfaces and junctions against leaks of fluids. In another embodiment, "priming" can be used to reliably adhere preformed barriers to tissue or other surfaces, or to adhere tissue surfaces to each other. A first surface and a barrier, or another surface, are prestained with initiator, and a thin layer of gellable monomer containing initiator is placed between them. Strong adhesion is obtained between the two surfaces on gelation of the monomer. In a similar fashion, tissue surfaces can be adhered to each other in repair of wounds and formation of anastomoses. Methods for use of non-photochemical systems and combined chemical/photochemical systems are described.