Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

World Anti-Doping Agency on drug education

The Bucks Free Press have an interview with Tony Copsey about the work he’s doing around drug misuse in rugby for the World Anti-Doping Agency.  He says:

“Where we’re coming from it is keeping that deterrent of more testing and more banning if required, but also up-front education and support because there is a lot of evidence that recreational drugs are a spur of the moment decision with people not really thinking about the ramifications.

“Matt Stevens is a classic example of a young player, very talented, who strayed down the wrong path. We’re not being naive and thinking that might not happen to another player.

“If you go to school these days you will get exposed to drug education and we sometimes forget that young players need that education as well.”

On the WADA site they have a number of pages dealing with education where they say:

Athletes who dope usually make this decision being fully aware of the necessary factual information about doping and its consequences. Those who decide not to dope will often do so based on personal convictions, of which the foundation is a strong values system. A preventive education program aimed at values development will ensure that young people, athletes and athlete support personnel have reasons to decide to avoid doping and to stick to that decision.

You can download their teachers toolkit which they hope will help educate young people about the dangers and issues associated with doping in sport here.

Filed under: drug education, resources

“You never see pictures of nice people having a nice drink and not getting hammered.”

The Guardian has a story about what young people think about the way they’re portrayed in the media in relation to alcohol.  Understandably they don’t always recognise themselves in the papers. but it appears they do have concerns about how alcohol is being used by their peers and parents:

While the majority feel that media portrayals of blitzed high streets are a gross exaggeration, a straw poll revealed that many have friends whose drinking and destructive behaviour worried them. With startling honesty, one panellist described the death of a friend. And many said that they copied their parents, which meant using or abusing alcohol to drown their sorrows or cope with pressures.

Here’s what they are reported saying about alcohol education:

The participants all thought schools needed to improve alcohol education and that they needed consistent messages.

Jack One said that his education stressed the negative aspects of alcohol from the age of 12, with the only realistic talk coming from a police officer. “He said: ‘We know you are going to drink and take drugs but do it somewhere quiet, do it nicely. If you do get drunk, call us. We will help.'”

Nicola had only been given a one-hour chat at school and felt she needed more, whereas Frankie got no advice until about 16: “By that time everyone had done it.”

One young woman goes on to say that hearing from an alcoholic made a big impression on her, but others say that advice on the harms that alcohol can do are often shrugged off because “it always seemed it couldn’t happen to them.”

Peer education is perceived positively, but the messages about alcohol shouldn’t be about prohibition, and need to recognise that young people will make mistakes.  One of the participants says:

“We are known as a generation of cottonwool kids, wrapped up. We have everything. But young people need to learn to make their own mistakes. They need to do what they want and if it goes wrong, even at 13, the majority will learn by them.”

Filed under: alcohol, drug education

Cocaine study that got up the nose of the US

Ben Goldacre, of Bad Science fame, writes about drugs this week and in discussing the World Health Organisation’s study of global cocaine use (which he says was never published) he quotes the following passage about fear based messages about the drug:

Despite a broad range of educational and prevention approaches, most programmes do not prevent myths, but perpetuate stereotypes and misinform the general public. Such programmes rely on sensationalized, exaggerated statements about cocaine which misinform about patterns of use, stigmatize users, and destroy the educator’s credibility. This has given most education campaigns a naïve image and has reduced confidence in the quality and accuracy of these campaigns.

Read more here.

Filed under: cocaine, scare tactics

Does this sound familiar?

A report into drug education found:

  • Support services were crucial for school and teachers that find it difficult to implement SPHE.
  • There is little engagement with parents in the planning and development of the programme.
  • Curriculum overload, timetable pressures and lack of status for SPHE affect its provision in schools.

The survey was carried out in Ireland as part of developing a new drug strategy. You can read more about what they found in the Irish Examiner.

What struck me was how much of what our Irish colleagues found was reflected in our the findings of the review of drug and alcohol education last year, where our three key recommendations were to:

  • Increase parents’ and carers’ knowledge and skills about drug and alcohol education and prevention enabling them to better inform and protect their children;
  • Improve the quality of drug and alcohol education by making PSHE a statutory subject – to enable schools and colleges to promote well-being effectively, and to improve the quality of training for PSHE teachers; and
  • Improve identification and support for young people vulnerable to drug misuse in schools, colleges and non-formal settings.

Filed under: drug education, International

Understanding physical development, health and wellbeing

The Rose review of the primary curriculum has a paper looking in depth at the aspects of learning associated with understanding physical development, health and wellbeing, the part of the curriculum in which drug education will be focused.

It argues that this is important because:

To enjoy healthy, active and fulfilling lives, children must learn to respond positively to challenges, to recognise and manage risk and to develop their self-confidence and physical capabilities. Such learning lays the foundations for long-term wellbeing and contributes to children’s mental, social, emotional, economic and physical development.

The essential knowledge associated with this learning area which seems the most closely linked to our interests is to build secure knowledge of:

healthy living depends upon a balance of physical activity, nutrition, leisure, work and rest to promote wellbeing

The document says that some of the skills that are needed to make progress are to be able to:

  • reflect on and evaluate evidence when making personal choices or bringing about improvements in performance and behaviour
  • generate and implement ideas, plans and strategies, exploring alternatives
  • find information and check its accuracy including the different ways that issues are presented by different viewpoints and media
  • communicate clearly and interact with a range of audiences to express views on issues that affect their wellbeing.

In terms of the breadth of learning that is proposed there are some very specific outcomes – such as learning to swim at least 25 meters – as well as more general points, including:

They should learn how to make decisions that promote and sustain better physical, mental and emotional health. They should learn how to manage their emotions and develop and sustain relationships, recognising diversity and respecting themselves and others. Through a range of activities and experiences; children should have opportunities to collaborate and to compete individually, in pairs, groups and teams. Through these activities, they learn about their capabilities, their limitations and their potential.

They go on to say:

Children should learn how to solve problems, to embrace and overcome challenges and deal with change. They should learn about staying safe and how to identify and manage risks relating to issues including harmful relationships, drugs and alcohol, and how and where to get help.

The paper sets out how the curriculum should progress between the early, middle and later stages of primary education. In our area of interest it suggests that

  • learning that some substances can help or harm the body should be addressed in the early stages;
  • that during the middle stages pupils should be taught about the impact of some harmful and beneficial substances on their body – in a footnote it says, “This includes the effects of medicines, tobacco, alcohol and other drugs on their bodies.”; and
  • in the later stage they should learn “how to make responsible, informed decisions relating to medicines, alcohol, tobacco and other substances and drugs”

The final section looks at cross curricular opportunities and suggests that schools should look to:

make links to other areas of learning and to wider issues of interest and importance, particularly through exploring ethical and moral issues relating to real life choices and decisions.

Understanding physical development, health and wellbeing, can be downloaded from here.

Filed under: drug education, education

Exposure to Substance Use Prevention Messages and Substance Use among American Adolescents: 2002 to 2007

nsduhThe US Government has published a report on their analysis of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They argue:

Gaining a better understanding of how many and which types of adolescents receive prevention messages and programs through each of the many potential sources is essential for the development of effective prevention programming.

The report says that young people in America have seen a reduction in their exposure to prevention messages through media sources and out of school settings, but have had more conversations with their parents about drugs, and the same recall of school based lessons.

It appears that parents (and schools) reduce their discussions about drugs as the young people who took the survey grow older. Meanwhile the reverse was true of media messages.

The report goes on to look at the relationship between being exposed to prevention messages and the use of substances:

Adolescents who reported having conversations with parents about the dangers of substance use were less likely than those who did not have such conversations to have been past month users of cigarettes (10.6 vs. 12.5 percent), alcohol (16.2 vs. 18.3 percent), and illicit drugs (9.5 vs. 11.7 percent).

They found a similar relationship between those who recalled messages from school (much as the Information Centre’s annual report on substance misuse finds amongst English pupils). The authors say:

This report also reinforces findings from previous studies that emphasize the impact of parental and school involvement on the prevention of substance use. The prevalence of substance use was lower among adolescents exposed to prevention messages through parental and school sources than among those who were not exposed.

However, they warn American policy makers against complacency pointing out that 30% of young people don’t recall prevention messages in school and 40% saying they hadn’t had a conversation with a parent about drugs.

Filed under: drug education, USA

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

In Response to Kathy Gyngell

Kathy Gyngell, chair of the group that wrote Addicted Britain and the addictions chapter of Breakthrough Britain for the Conservative Party’s Social Justice Commission, argues that the government’s approach to drug education is wrong.

Here’s part of the response I’ve left on her blog:

From my perspective there is now the some evidence for what an effective drug education programme could look like. I don’t know if you saw the Matrix and Bazian literature review for the Department of Health which concluded, “programmes focusing on developing life skills to avoid drug use have a high effect on drug use outcomes.” That’s no doubt because they read the Cochrane review of school based prevention from back in 2005 which reached similar conclusions. More recently we’ve had the findings from the EUDAP trials in Europe which are also very promising in terms of prevention.

The issue, it seems to me, is in developing a consensus on evidence, and then thinking about the levers that are politically feasible in order to ensure that children and young people get the education they deserve.

Read the whole thing here.

Filed under: drug blogs, drug education

Cannabis: Throwing the first stone

Steve Rolles, of Transform, writes in The Journal, a paper aimed at students in Edinburgh, writes about drug education:

The problem with drugs education historically, and the cannabis issue in particular, is that it has evolved in the context of a highly emotive public debate, with the drugs issue subsumed within law and order populism, and generally characterised by “tough on drugs” political posturing, opportunism, and moralising, rather than public health principles and evidence of effectiveness.

Now read on.

Filed under: cannabis, drug education

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.

Filed under: drug education, USA

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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July 2021