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.