Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Revealed: Government helpline tells children ‘cannabis is safer than alcohol’

The Sunday Telegraph have been ringing Frank, the government’s drugs advice helpline, and report on what they’ve been told:

Advisers manning the “Frank” helpline are informing callers they believed to be children as young as 13 that alcohol is a “much more powerful drug than cannabis” and that using the illegal drug recreationally is not harmful because it “doesn’t get you that high”.

Callers are also being told that taking ecstasy will not lead to long-term damage and that if they are in doubt, to “just take half a pill and if you are handling that OK, you can take the other half.”

The government are said to be carrying out an immediate investigation.

They also have a handy “what is Frank?” sidebar, the transcripts of their conversations with the advisors, and an opinion piece by Professor McKeganey,  professor of drug misuse research, University of Glasgow, and Dr Zerrin Atakan, consultant psychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry.

Professor McKeganey says:

The big question though is whether the pro drug tenor of the transcript is at all indicative of the wider Frank advice to young people. If that is the case we have a serious problem.

The U.K. has one of the highest levels of teenage cannabis use anywhere in Europe. What we need is clear information on the harms of cannabis use not this kind of misplaced, pro drug propaganda, targeted at young people and dressed up as advice and support.

Dr Atakan says:

Research evidence shows that the brain is not fully developed until we are about 18 – 20. Any drug use while the brain is still developing may lead to structural or functional changes as shown in some MRI studies. One Australian study has shown that heavy cannabis users show clear structural abnormalities of the brain. Another recent study has also shown that cannabis use before 18 can lead to abnormalities in areas of the brain that control memory, attention, decision-making and language skills.

The Daily Mail follow the story here.

The UK Cannabis Internet Activists have a different take on the advice:

What the adviser didn’t say was “just say no”, which is what the Telegraph is so upset about. This is the real world though, the adviser has a couple of minutes to engage with the callers and to hopefully leave a message  which will make the caller think. What we have here is experienced advisers dealing with a real world situation, worse of having to do so against a backdrop of a policy built on lies and misinformation.


Filed under: Frank

National Tackling Drugs Week

home-officeVia DrugData Update I see that the Home Office have produced a handbook for local agencies and police forces to give them ideas on how to contribute to their tackling drugs week.

Amongst the advice and ideas were two that might interest readers of this blog.  First for talking to parents they say:

Why not approach a local school and see if you can reach parents through the schools newsletter with FRANK’s top tips, or is there a parents evening happening during National Tackling Drugs Week that you could go along to. FRANK branded leaflets, posters, postcards are available for you to use during National Tackling Drugs Week.

And if you are interested in reaching young people they suggest:

A really effective way of reaching young people is with the FRANK peer-to-peer street marketing approach. FRANK has produced a guide to street marketing – email FRANK@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk for a copy. The guide has information about recruiting and training young people to act as FRANK ambassadors and includes lots of ideas for getting key messages out to young people in your community.

These ideas apart I couldn’t help notice that prevention messages were notable by their absence.  By comparison I counted 7 key messages which are about enforcement and 4 which focus on treatment.

Filed under: Frank, Government

Not a lot of change from £2million

James Langton, who runs a support group for cannabis users (Clearhead), uses the Centre for Policy Studies blog to take Frank to task. He argues:

Frankly – and I use the word in this context advisedly – the current crop of high profile public health information campaigns are designed to re-enforce messages that kids on the sensible side of the tracks will understand. Prevention is critical, of course it is, but I would suggest stronger messages would be more effective coming directly from a slightly older age group who can talk credibly about their own experience of the personal damage that their abuse has done to them.

If I’ve been reading the evidence correctly in fact the harder messages that Mr Langton calls for actually work best with those least likely to use drugs, and have a bit of a boomerang effect on those most likely to try the drug.

Filed under: Frank

Mum doesn’t know best

Zoe Williams writing in The Guardian questions the way that public health campaigns are developed.  She says:

public health messages have to chime with experience. When they do they have an incredible impact, but when they don’t, they are not simply a bit less effective: they discredit the promulgating authority. An individual who hears from Primarolo that cannabis causes “serious and long-term health problems” but finds little empirical evidence for the same, stops listening to the government – not on those drugs alone, but altogether.

I think there’s some truth in this. We’ve certainly seen that over-emphasising the harms that drugs do can make some young people more likely to use drugs (see here and here for example) and less likely to take the messages seriously.

The problem is that these fear based messages do help confirm those who are least likely to take drugs in their decisions, which may explain why NICE’s guidance on public health messages for young people around tobacco should include ones that might elicit fear (though this isn’t without critics). Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Frank

The Brain Crasher Party

The government’s public health campaign, Frank, have a new advert aimed at 11-18 year olds.

The Guardian in their coverage say:

While it is not the first anti-cannabis advert to appear on British television, it is the first to specifically target 11-14 year-old “dabblers and contemplaters”, children considering smoking the drug without awareness of any consequent problems. It is also aimed at slightly older peers who may have already tried the drug.

They go on to review the advert which I’ve embedded (above) saying:

no one is expecting Jamesian subtlety in a 40-second government health ad – but neon signs above people’s heads? Really? Sometimes you just gotta love the government for trying. But alas, suggestion and allusion aren’t optional extras in successful advertising – they are its defining feature…

The result is a dismal, deadening literalness that I suspect won’t even cause its target demographic to lift an eyebrow, never mind a phone.

Filed under: advertising, cannabis, Frank

The 2009 FRANK Awards nomination deadline extended

The Home Office have emailed to say:

The FRANK awards are designed to recognise and reward individuals or organisations who have used the FRANK campaign to deliver effective communications, campaigns or materials.

This is a chance to highlight the projects and campaigns that have successfully raised awareness of drug issues and made an impact in the community by nominating them for a FRANK award. The deadline for nominations has now been extended to 31 January 2009.

Nominations are open in two categories:

  • FRANK communications aimed at young people
  • FRANK communications aimed at the the wider community

Two awards will be given in each of the nine government regions in England and from these two overall category winners will then be selected. There is also a judges’ award for the overall best use of FRANK.

For more information and to download a nomination form see the FRANK awards.

Filed under: Frank

Drugs and Young People in Foster Care

foster“I think it [the conversation about drugs] has to be for all kids in the family, otherwise it’s like your foster carer is saying, my own children are never going to do drugs but you’re in care, so you will.”

Frank have a new leaflet for foster carers to help them think about drugs with the children in their care.

It points out:

Talking about drugs doesn’t always stop young people from taking them, but it will help them make more informed choices and reduce the risks associated with drug use. Talking about drugs can help young people in foster care to feel more independent and in control of their lives, as well as helping them to get further support and treatment if they need it. One thing is for certain – talking about drugs won’t encourage a child or young person to try or take more drugs.

It goes on to say that young people in care need stable and reliable adults in their lives whom they can trust and that the carer is a good position to provide accurate information about drugs.

They provide a number of statistics to show why children in care may be vulnerable to developing drug problems.

  • 73% of care leavers interviewed had smoked cannabis compared to 31% of the general population
  • 29% had taken ecstasy compared to 6% of the general population
  • 26% had taken cocaine compared to 4% of the general population
  • 21% had used solvents compared to 7% of the general population
  • 14% had taken crack compared to 2% of the general population
  • 9% had taken heroin compared to 0.6% of the general population

The leaflets points out that in law foster carers can be held responsible for illegal drugs being (or being used) in their homes and gives précis of the law as it relates to the age of criminal responsibility.

They advise taking notes about the young person’s behaviour and trying to distinguish between recreational drug use and problematic use; and where they may be concerned to think about how to work with social workers and other professionals.

There’s a section on preparing to talk about drugs which include thinking about:

  • Short or long term foster care;
  • Parental drug use;
  • Learning difficulties;
  • Age; and
  • The inquisitive nature of young people.

And then there are tips for talking about drugs.

While it is important to encourage dialogue around drugs, there are limits to what you might achieve, so don’t feel that you have failed if a child or young person refuses to talk to you. The best things that you can try to do are:

  • Listen
  • Answer questions
  • Provide a comfortable and ‘safe’ environment in which to talk
  • Help them to make informed decisions
  • Direct them to specialist advice or support if needed

Other tips include: not treating the young person differently from the foster carers own children; using stories from television or other media to open discussions; picking the right time to start the discussion; explaining the risks associated with drug use.

The leaflet closes by giving advice on working with challenging behaviour; child protection; and helping the young people find support networks.

Filed under: Frank

Frank on YouTube

Filed under: cocaine, Frank,

Submit Your Entries for 2009 FRANK Awards

The Home Office are looking for nominations to the FRANK awards:

The FRANK awards are designed to recognise and reward individuals or oganisations who have used the FRANK campaign to deliver effective communications or campaigns or materials.

Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said:

“We want to reward people working in the communities who are at the heart of the effort to educate and support young people with drug issues.”

“It is the commitment and effort of stakeholders and organisation across the regions that really makes a difference,”

They are looking for nominations in two areas:

  • FRANK communications aimed at young people; and
  • FRANK communications aimed at the wider community

The Home Office say:

Two awards will be given in each of the nine government regions and from these two overall category winners will then be selected. There is aslo a judges’ award for the overall best use of FRANK.

The deadline for entries is 19 December 2008 more information here.

Filed under: Frank

Cannabis Classification

24Dash.com has a story about the reclassification of cannabis which will return to Class B from 26 January next year.

They quote Children and Families Minister Delyth Morgan saying:

“The reclassification helps us get our message across that cannabis is not a harmless drug and that there are real concerns about how this will impact on the future of young people who use it. The FRANK campaign and our review of drug education will ensure that the potential harms are better understood by young people and their parents.”

Update – here are the stories I’ve bookmarked on this.

Filed under: cannabis, drug education, Frank

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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