Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Drug education In America, lessons learned

An interesting piece in the Economist about drug education in America.

Like in the UK the focus of much drug education is on 11 to 14 year olds:

The principle is that children should be reached while they are still fairly pliable and before they begin to take drugs—not just the hard stuff but alcohol, marijuana and tobacco. The hope is that they will develop a broad aversion to harmful substances that will stay with them through their late teens and early 20s, when drug use peaks.

The article is quite critical of the DARE programme, but recognises that their approach has changed in recent times:

By means of role-playing, cops and teachers try to provide children with the confidence to resist pressures of all kinds, from drugs to internet bullying. Rather than telling children that drugs are dangerous, teachers assure them that they are rare. Drugs are no longer treated as a unique, self-contained threat—which indeed they are often not. “Kids do not normally walk in with a drug problem who do not have other problems,” says Lori Vollandt, who co-ordinates health programmes in Los Angeles’ schools.

They conclude that anti-tobacco messages have been very successful, and say:

It may seem odd that the campaign against tobacco, a legal drug, has displayed so much more élan than the war on illegal drugs. Yet this is natural. Making a drug illegal may discourage some people from taking it, but it also discourages frank conversation and clear thinking. It is much easier to attack something if it is brought into the light.

There is, however, one aspect of the piece that I want to challenge; the argument that fear based approaches to drug education may be over done – the article cites the fall in use of methamphetamine as proof:

Faced with an epidemic, Montana and other western states rolled out advertising campaigns. But rather than emphasise the drug’s addictiveness and long-term effects on the brain, as earlier anti-drug campaigns had done, these pointed out that meth users often had rotten teeth. It worked: in the past five years attitudes to the drug have hardened and use has dropped steeply.

Readers of this blog may remember that the outcomes of the advertising weren’t quite as the Economist remembers them if this research is right. 

Claims that the campaign is effective are not supported by data. The campaign has been associated with increases in the acceptability of using methamphetamine and decreases in the perceived danger of using drugs. These and other negative findings have been ignored and misrepresented by the MMP. There is no evidence that reductions in methamphetamine use in Montana are caused by the advertising campaign.

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Filed under: drug education, USA

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