Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Class A lesson in the war against drugs

The Times has a story about the Manchester Coroner, Nigel Meadows, who tells them:

Drug education doesn’t seem to be working.

By which he appears to mean that 2007 there’s was a 3 per cent rise in drug related deaths in England and Wales over the previous year.

Leaving aside the question of whether it’s appropriate to ask drug education to keep drug deaths stable (or to reduce them) let’s move on to look at how Mr Meadows thinks things should be done.

The Times say:

He wants schoolchildren to witness the devastation drugs cause; to “educate and inform” by showing them what he sees every day, sparing none of the details. This is only the second time he has hosted a session here (he carried out a test run in Portsmouth) . He admits the administration involved means that it has been hard finding schools to take part – but he hopes that it will become a regular fixture.

Today, he is playing host to a group of 14 youngsters, all aged 15 and 16, who have come to view the pictures, sit in on an inquest and hear from parents who have lost children to drug-related deaths. As the pupils are finding out, it’s an emotionally charged approach and one that doesn’t fail to make an impression.

It’s a ‘scared straight’ programme with a twist that the coronor isn’t waiting for the young people he talks to having problems with the law.  You might remember that this approach has – despite Mr Meadow’s claims to the contrary – been tried before and has been put over the hurdles by social scientists.  The last time I wrote about it I was highlighting a book on effective trials in health, education and social science, the authors said:

‘Scared Straight’ is a widely used intervention in North America. Juvenile offenders are taken to meet long-term prisoners in order to deter them from further crime. A recent version being offered in the UK is to take juvenile drug users to prisons to meet jailed drug offenders. A series of RCTs from North America was undertaken and summarised in a systematic review. The review demonstrated that the ‘Scared Straight’ programme actually increased the risk of offending in the juveniles in the intervention group compared with juveniles in the control group (Petrosino et al., 2002)

While the Times doesn’t let Mr Meadows get it all his own way – there’s a quote from someone from Addaction pointing out that shock tactics don’t have much of an evidence base – it’s largely an uncritical article.  The pay off is a quote from an assistant head teacher:

In line with government policy, his school offers drugs education in classtime, delivering messages prescribed by the Department for Education. The inquest visit is is a much more dynamic approach, Braithwaite says. “It’s powerful stuff, I’ve never seen anything like this. It is much more valuable than anything I could present in the classroom. I guarantee none of these children would want to dabble in drugs now.”

It may be powerful, but it’s not evidenced, or effective.


Filed under: drug education, scare tactics

The 2007 ESPAD report

ESPADThe EMCDDA have published a summary of the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD).

In their news release they point out:

Use of illicit drugs among 15–16-year-old school students, appears to have stabilised or slightly fallen, according to the latest European study of this group published today by ESPAD. The report, which follows a 2007 survey conducted in 35 European countries, also reveals a decrease in last-month rates of cigarette smoking among school students. However, it sounds the alarm over clear rises in the group’s ‘heavy episodic drinking’, and the narrowing gender gap in this behaviour.

I’ve taken a look at how the UK fares against the average and created the following graph to help (click it to get a bigger version).



The survey suggests that 58 % of pupils from participating countries have tried smoking cigarettes at least once and 29 % had smoked in the past 30 days.

The report has nothing specific to say about young people from the UK in terms of tobacco, it does however make a general point:

Over time, a slight decrease in the past 30 days’ smoking may be noticed, the total average prevalence rate having dropped by four percentage points between 1995 and 2007 in ESPAD countries with comparable data for all four waves. If the comparison is confined to the period between 1999 and 2007, the drop in relatively recent smoking is seven percentage points. A small overall gender gap (4 percentage points) was noticed in 1995 but this gap had vanished in 2007.


On average 90% of pupils said they had drunk at least one alcoholic drink in their lifetime. 82% said they had drunk alcohol in the last year, and 61% say they’ve done so in the last 30 days.

Countries with many students that have been drunk during the past 12 months usually have high figures for drunkenness during the past 30 days. Countries in which many students report drunkenness this often include Denmark (limited comparability), the Isle of Man, the United Kingdom and Austria, with figures from 49 to 31 % for past 30 days drunkenness. Countries on the other end of the scale include Armenia (2 %) and Cyprus (9 %).

Another way of measuring drunkenness has been to ask how often the students had been consuming five drinks or more per occasion…

Some countries score high on both measures, for example Denmark (limited comparability), the Isle of Man and the United Kingdom. However, there are countries in which many students report heavy episodic drinking during the past 30 days, while they were rather low on the ranking list for drunkenness for the same period. Examples of such countries include Malta, Portugal, Estonia and Latvia.

Illicit drugs

On average, 23 % of the boys and 17 % of the girls have tried illicit drugs at least once during their lifetime according to the 2007 survey.

The vast majority of those who have tried illicit drugs report using cannabis (19%), 3% say they have tried ecstasy, with the same percentage for cocaine and amphetamines.

In terms of the UK the report says:

No country displays a continuous decrease, but Ireland and the United Kingdom drop substantially in illicit drug use when the whole period is considered (14 percentage points down roughly), while there is also a minor decrease in the Faroe Islands (6 percentage points down 1995–2007). It could be noted that even though Estonia and the United Kingdom are on the same prevalence level in 2007 (about 28 %), they have reached that point from opposite directions; an increase from 8 % in 1995 in the case of Estonia and a decrease from 42 % in that of the United Kingdom.

They also point to low illicit use of medicines (such as tranquilisers) and consequently the use of pills with alcohol.


The report says that 9% of students in the survey say they’ve used volatile substances. They go on to say:

The biggest drops have taken place in Lithuania and the United Kingdom (about 12 percentage points down) and an opposite development is notable for Finland and the Slovak Republic (6 points up).

Final Remarks

The report concludes with some final remarks which include pointing out that the UK is amongst a number of countries where prevalence rates are above or around average for most of the nine measures. However, they also say:

Regarding recent changes, students in Belgium (Flanders), Iceland, Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom often tend to report decreased levels of substance use for many of the variables.

They go on to say:

Some long-term country trends could also be mentioned. For instance, an example of a country for which most substance-use measures show no increases at all across all four surveys is the United Kingdom. Actually, for most variables compared, British students show a decrease or at worst a stabilised situation.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Media Reaction to European School Survey

The BBC lead saying that UK young people are among worst for drink.  They quote Professor Martin Plant saying:

“There is a clear scientific consensus that alcohol education and mass media campaigns have a very poor track record in influencing drinking habits.”

Meanwhile, as part of their School Report, a young reporter has been doing her own survey:

Thirty per cent say they don’t drink, 5% considered themselves to be “addicted” to drink and 15% of the participants drank for “popularity”.

Many teenagers obviously think that is it “cool” to drink just so that they can get in with “The Popular Crowd”.

The Times also mention Professor Plant and say:

Scientists have renewed calls for a minimum price for alcoholic drinks after a study found that British teenagers are still among the heaviest drinkers in Europe.

The Guardian also focus on the issue of alcohol, and include a quote from Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern, who says:

Not only are UK children getting drunk more often than most of their European peers, they’re drinking larger amounts when they do. These figures show that the widespread practice of binge drinking in the UK has now filtered down to school-age children.

The Telegraph follow the pack and report:

More than one in four British teens said that they had binged at least three times in the past month, the survey found.

Britain also came third in the number of teenagers who admitted drinking over the previous month, 33 per cent, behind only Denmark and the Isle of Man.

Asked what the consequences of drinking were, British  teenagers were the only ones to rate it overall as a positive experience.

Filed under: europe, media

Pupils use substances less in attachment-generating schools

Mike Ashton, of Drug and Alcohol Findings, sends me the following which may interest readers of this blog:

Further evidence that adolescent substance use is affected not just by specific prevention activities or the youngster’s individual circumstances, but by a school’s overall climate, especially the attachment it generates in its pupils.

You can read more of his analysis of the research on Drug and Alcohol Findings.

I’d highlighted the study here, but Mike’s analysis is well worth reading.

It also gives me the chance to remind you of this post where I took a look at an Ofsted report on “sustained good practice in re-engaging disaffected students in their learning”.

Filed under: research

links for 2009-03-26

Filed under: Delicious

Can you measure happiness in schools?

Cassandra Jardine attacks the well-being agenda for schools and PSHE in particular in the Telegraph:

And yet more hours will be given over to vague lessons of doubtful benefit when PHSE – personal, health and social education – is already creating yawning holes (and I mean yawning) in timetables. Those holes that would be better filled with science, art, music, maths and modern languages.

She goes on:

And yet there is hypocrisy in my position. Whenever I have looked around a school for one of my five children I have always tried to gauge the happiness of the pupils using measures rather more subjective than those the Government has picked.

Now read on.

Filed under: PSHE, Well-being

Involving parents and studying projects which work is crucial to improving children’s wellbeing

John Bynner writing in the Guardian, takes a look at parenting and whether they matter:

The public wants action. Pick up any tabloid paper and you’ll find headlines about “generations lost to drugs and violence”, teenage muggings and gang fighting, stabbings and knife-carrying youths. Family breakdown is rife they cry and so is drug-taking.

But as one young person pointed out in an online chatroom: “I am 15 years old and I have never smoked, drunk alcohol, had sex or been offered drugs. For every asbo in a hoodie with a knife tucked up his sleeve, there’s at least 100 good guys. The good guys don’t make headlines.”

However, parents are in the spotlight. They are blamed for being overprotective and not equipping children for the real world. They are castigated for being neglectful, self-regarding, irresponsible. They are, it is thought, the originators of many ills.

Now read on.

Filed under: parents

Pupils to study Twitter and blogs in primary shake-up

The Guardian have seen something about the Rose review of the primary curriculum, which leads them to the conclusion that pupils will be learning about Twitter and blogs.

I’ve been at briefings about the review from those developing the report and it is clear that ICT is going to play a significant role in what primary school children will be expected to learn about if Sir Jim’s review is accepted by Ministers.

Including something about staying safe on social networking sites in the curriculum would seem to make a lot of sense to me.

We’ve seen a number of times over the last few years that newspapers have found what young people post on social networking sites very tempting particularly when it comes to stories about their use of alcohol.  Most recently the Scottish edition of the Sunday Express has used what young people from the town of Dunblane have put on their Facebook accounts as material for a front page story.  Public reaction in that case has been overwhelmingly negative, and the paper issued an apology.

Whether that signals a change in attitude towards what newspapers believe is acceptable in trawling social networking sites remains to be seen.

Clearly for primary school aged children they are unlikely to be the subject of this sort of story, but helping them to understand the power of these sites and how that power can be misused could be very valuable.

Filed under: education

Jackson slams ‘ineffective’ cannabis action

ITN are reporting on evidence that the American politician and civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson, has been giving to the home affairs select committee in Parliament.

Rev Jackson is reported as suggesting that cannabis enforcement has a history of being one eyed, focusing on those from poorer socio-economic groups and ignoring what happens in universities.  Asked whether the police should be focusing on campuses he said:

“You can either begin to raid campuses – you go up on a couple of high-profile universities in Britain and you do a drug raid you will get a huge reaction from people of power whose children are going to be damaged by that process.

“Or you can let the same laws apply to those on the ghetto corners, have the same relaxed notion. At least give the others the same playing field.”

Filed under: Parliament

Closing the Gaps

tower-of-londonI spent an interesting day with Addaction yesterday in the Tower of London.

Rather than looking for ravens or Beefeaters with the tourists, we were listening to the findings from their latest project, Young Addaction Plus, which they’ve written up in a report, Closing the Gaps.

Addaction say:

Following their involvement in the Young Addaction Plus (YAP) project, 91% of the young people made positive changes to their lives, 96% tried to keep out of crime, and 82% either reduced or stabilised their substance misuse.

The findings were particularly striking given the severity of the problems the young people suffered when they first entered the project. The ages of the young people ranged between 10 and 19; they had complex drug and alcohol problems and their needs could not be met within mainstream services.

Listening to the parent and young people who had been through the process it was clear they felt they owed a great deal to the staff that worked with them, but it had not been an easy process.

Young People

The young people spoke about relapses, with one young person saying that her drug use was “always there, always going round and round.” However they also said that when they had relapsed they had changed their patterns of use to make sure they were doing less harm to themselves.  They also spoke very movingly about being able to rely on the workers from Addaction to be there for them, often seeing them 3 or 4 times a week for hours on end.

One of the young people told us about the difference that sort of interaction had made by admitting that when he’d been to traditional treatment sessions he’d told the workers what he’d thought they wanted to hear with little intention of doing what he’d agreed.  With Addaction the worker had accompanied him to the various actitivities they’d agreed to, whether that was to college to choose courses for him to do, or to the gym where Addaction were able to pay for his membership.  He said this positive pressure from his worker had shown him that the activities were worthwhile in themselves, and now he didn’t need the worker to motivate him to do these things he could do that himself.


The parent who spoke told us about how difficult she had found the behaviour of her drug taking son, but how she’d tried to keep his behaviour from her husband and the toll that had taken on their marriage.  She said that traditional services had been unco-ordinated, and that schools in particular hadn’t been as involved their son’s well-being as they’d have wanted.

She described fleeing from a city to living in a rural town in order to change the circumstances of her family life, but found that this wasn’t the magical solution to the problems.

Addaction had given her strategies to cope, to be able to see that her husband was an integral part of the family and needed to be included in the process of changing their son’s life, and a safe and reliable place to share their problems.  She told us that she suffered epileptic fits 3 or 4 times a week which made traditional services (where the client travels to the worker) unaccessible as she couldn’t drive.  Addaction’s model meant that the family worker was able to visit their home.

The Model

closing-the-gapsAs you’ll see if you read the report Addaction were piloting a way of working which reached 386 young people over 5 geographical areas over the 3 years of the project.

They said the approach was to provide the young people and the wider family with separate workers, which allowed for a level of confidentiality which they said was critical to keep the young people engaged.  Each worker would have a case load of 5 to 10 cases, which enabled flexibility and an ability to focus on individuals in a way that isn’t open to traditional services.

The project recognised that young people may need several attempts a treatment before reaching a successful conclusion.

The workers who spoke all told us that being able to access a small diversionary fund had been critical.  They told us that this had been used for things like gym membership, equipment for colleges, family day’s out, emergency food or clothes packages, and on at least one occasion a replacement birth certificate.

The latter had allowed the young person to be able to get stable accommodation, which they said was crucial to being able to work on their drug problems.

The workers also said they focused on practical issues – getting young people back into education, into accommodation, benefits etc. – rather than providing counseling services, for which they used colleagues from mainstream services.

The outcomes that Addaction reported seem to me to be immensely heartening, but as I’m sure readers will be aware very resource intensive.  So it was very interesting to hear that in 4 of the 5 pilot areas the commissioners had been able to mainstream the project.

The point that I made to various people over the course of the day was that if we are thinking about reducing risks then it would make sense to ensure that prevention work is being done with other siblings in the family.  Of course, some will be by default – the parenting skills that are being picked up for example – but perhaps something specific which looks at what can be done to protect other children in the family would be useful.

Filed under: treatment

About this blog

This blog tries to pick up relevant media and research stories about drug education. It mainly focuses on information in England as this is the geographical remit for the Drug Education Forum. We welcome comments that are on topic.

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