Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Put that in your pipe…

Matthew Taylor, the Chief Executive of the RSA, writes about the reclassification debate:

As the father of teenage sons I sometimes hear them talk about their peers smoking ‘weed’. For them it seems to be an aspect of identity, with smokers seen as a subset of what used to be called grungers; teens who wear baggie jeans, have long hair and spend a lot of time in their bedrooms listening to bands like Nirvana and their various imitators. My sons have different lifestyles and reference points so they tend to be disparaging about this particular subset of teen culture.

The point is that in all these discussions I have not once heard the idea that young people’s choices about cannabis are based on the law.

Indeed it is almost the reverse, as cannabis (the majority of which is now grown in the UK) has become easier and easier to get hold of it has lost some of its connotations of rebellion leaving young people to take a dispassionate view of its effects and its effects on those people who take a lot of it.

See also:

Filed under: cannabis, classification, RSA, ,

Teen Rage – anarchy in the UK?

A debate/event that may be of interest to our readers:

Teenagers in the UK are the most unruly, unhappy, and the most feared in the developed world if you believe the all the research published in the last few years. 

Teenagers leaving school today are statistically better qualified than they have ever been before yet seem ill prepared for the adult world – a world in which emotional, behavioural, personal and social skills have become far more important, in determining their earnings in later life.  

So what is the truth about our teenagers and what can we do about it? 

Over the years Channel 4 has built up an unrivalled track record in illuminating the issues facing teenagers as they make the transition from adolescence to adulthood, from school to work and test the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour.  

To coincide with its 25th anniversary Channel 4 Education in conjunction with Children & Young People Now and the RSA is hosting a debate Teen Rage – Anarchy in the UK? at the RSA on the evening of the 17th October.  This event will attempt to make sense of what is happening to our teenagers, and examine what we can do to improve their well being.

The event is taking place at the RSA in central London and you can book a place here.

Filed under: media, RSA

Nick Clegg MP at the RSA

Yesterday I attended a lunchtime event at the RSA at which Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman, Nick Clegg MP, talked about the issue of drugs.

These are the notes I made.

Mr Clegg said he’d been Home Affairs Spokesman for one and a half years and it had become apparent to him that there is a disconection between what evidence says works and the political discourse on the issue. He cited a number of reports that he says show the current drug strategy is failing.

He suggested that the reason that evidence isn’t more widely used to develop the strategic thinking on drugs is in part because the public debate focuses on illegality and the political desire to be seen to be ‘tough’ on crime. He said that Labour had been consistent since the mid-1990s that they wanted to have a strong image on addressing the issues of crime, by talking and acting tough.

Mr Clegg said that he felt that things were changing and there was an oportunity to have a different debate about drugs. He suggested this was in part because the current strategy has been failing for a long period of time and the critics were increasingly from within the establishment – he talked about senior police officers for example. He said the change of leadership in the Conservative party meant they were more open to liberal thinking, and that the evidence base pointed consistently to a need for change.

However, he did think that public opinion wasn’t ready for the sort of approach that evidence suggests may work. He felt that the public have yet to be persuaded that there is a crisis in drug policy and this point needed to be made time and time again.

He argued that drugs should be seen as a health or harm reduction issue, rather than one that is led by criminal justice considerations and felt that the Department of Health should lead the drug strategy. Mr Clegg also talked about needing to change the language we use about drugs, we need to admit that we can’t ‘win’ a War on Drugs.

He went on to say that he was appalled at the lack of government sponsored research to build the evidence base in the UK and suggested that the ACMD should be given additional powers and a budget to commission research. He felt that Ministers, where they disagree with the evidence, should have to explain why they were taking those decisions.

He didn’t think there was much point in politicians arguing about the classification on particular drugs and said he wouldn’t be doing it.

In talking about where he felt more needed to be done he said that treatment needed to become more readily available and that there needs to be changes to the way prisons operate, so that they help solve the problems. He also felt that restorative justice could play a significant role.

Talking about his own party Mr Clegg said that he acknowledged there aren’t votes in evidence based policy, and that his party had faced a ‘tidal wave of oprobrium’ when trying to talk about drugs in that manner. He feels that this ends with the debate becoming fossilised, so he suggested he will try to enter the debate on drugs in what he described as a ‘smarter’ way, largely by focusing on the failings of the current strategy and to look at what works in other countries.

He thought that it was time to try to take the political sting out of the debate on drugs by using a mechanism such as a Royal Commission to look at our approach to the harms that drugs do.

Filed under: drug strategy, RSA

RSA want to debate Drugs – Facing Facts

I’ve had the following from Matthew Taylor of the RSA:

Help us pioneer a new form of collaborative online deliberation.

The RSA is experimenting with a new web application that enables online collaboration in structured and reasoned debate about complex policy issues.

We have created a fully-editable map of the debate underlying our Drugs Commission’s recent report and, to help us make the map as comprehensive and authoritative as possible, we would like you to join fellow drug policy experts and interested RSA Fellows in editing and evaluating the arguments over the next month.

Debatemapper works directly via your web browser on both PC and Mac with nothing to install, so you can start exploring the map whenever you are ready to do so. .

We plan to share immediate reflections on the experiment at our conference on The Social Impact of the Web: Society, Government and the Internet on 25th May, and so would welcome your input ahead of 5:00 pm on Friday 18th May.

If any of your readers would like to participate in the debate they can send us a message using the form on Contact tab at http://www.debatemapper.com requesting an invitation code and citing your blog as the source of their interest. An e-mail including the invitation code will be sent to them in response shortly thereafter.

Thank you,

Matthew Taylor
Chief Executive
RSA

Filed under: RSA

Presentation to Drug Education Forum

This is a presentation I gave to the Drug Education Forum last week. Most of the focus is on the content of the RSA report Drugs – facing facts but it also touches on the ACMD’s Pathways to Problems.

If you are unable to see it in the blog you should be able to see the whole presentation here.

Filed under: ACMD, RSA

Just Say No to this ‘radical rethink’ on drugs

Spiked carries an article on the RSA report, the author (Dr Michael Fitzpatrick) doesn’t seem to be a fan of drug education:

The RSA report concedes that ‘drugs education’ – a concept scarcely less mind-numbing than heroin addiction – has failed. The answer? Never mind that ‘there has been too little evaluation for anyone to be certain what works’, we need more of the same, with the heart-sinking rider that it ‘should be focused more on primary schools’.

Why not teach children something interesting and inspiring, that might give them the truly radical idea that culture and society have more to offer than drug-induced oblivion?

Filed under: drug education, RSA

RSA, Drugs – facing facts

The RSA’s report, Drugs – facing facts, has gathered a lot of media attention. Here’s what I’ve picked up today:

Mark Lawson and Danny Kushlick in The Guardian, Alice Miles in The Times, Deborah Orr in The Independent, Anthony King in The Telegraph, The Mirror, The BMJ, and Iain Duncan Smith (with more here).

There’s not much discussion of the recommendations they make about drug education, and where they do its to selectively quote from the summary of the report, which says:

In the field of drugs education, there has been too little evaluation for anyone to be certain what works, but it is clear that much of it fails to achieve its objectives.Too much of it is inconsistent, irrelevant, disorganized, couched in inappropriate language and delivered by people without adequate training. The ‘Just say no’ approach has manifestly not worked. In the Commission’s view, the aims of policy should be, of course, to alert people to the risks of using drugs at all, but also to postpone first use, if any, until as late a date as possible.We recommend that drugs education should be focused more on primary schools and less on secondary schools, and that more heightening of knowledge and awareness of drugs should take place outside the formal school setting.

The Drug Education Forum will develop a full response to the report, but I think its safe to say that while we welcome the call for drug education to start in primary school (as it often does) and for an extension of education outside formal school settings we don’t think this should be at the expense of secondary school drug education.

I’m sure that readers of this blog won’t need to be reminded that only a few months ago the ACMD were arguing that drug education should be extended into the further and higher education spheres.

I wonder whether we might not try both! Developing age appropriate drug education for children and young people across primary, secondary, higher and further settings, and for informal education. Recognising that as children and young people grow they develop the capacity to understand subjects in more detail and are more likely to come into contact with drugs.

However, I’m going to need to set aside a fair chunk of time to read and digest the document, which in web form comes in at 335 pages long.

A quick search does reveal that the Forum has made a contribution to the commission’s thinking. Our DAT survey of a few years ago is cited in evidence about the loss of drug adviser posts and the report on involving children and young people in drug education is also referenced:

Organizations such as the Drug Education Forum and Mentor UK strongly advocate involving young people themselves in the shaping of projects and programmes.

Later they say:

Rather than ghettoizing drugs and alcohol education within Personal, Social and Health Education, such matters as the economics and geography of the drugs trade, the history of drugs policy and the philosophical issues surrounding the state’s regulation of personal behaviour could all be addressed elsewhere in the curriculum.‘Our work with children and young people,’ remarks the Drug Education Forum,‘indicates that they do not think about drugs in a vacuum but relate [the issue] to other issues and concerns in their lives.’

I’m not sure that we’d describe PSHE as a ghetto subject area, but the wider point seems well made to me, that other subjects can really contribute to children and young people’s understanding of drugs in our society, and to support them make decisions about their health.

Filed under: drug education, RSA

Drug laws ‘need major overhaul’

The BBC reports on the RSA report on drugs that will be published today. Apparently the report will suggest:

drugs education is “inconsistent, irrelevant, disorganised” and “delivered by people without adequate training”, and its main focus should shift from secondary to primary schools.

I’ll be going to the launch of the report this evening and will try to report back here over the next couple of days.

Meanwhile you may want to read their paper, Responses to drug misuse: education and prevention, which says:

One of the most promising features of drug education appears to be its ability to delay the first use of drugs. This is significant, as most evidence suggests that the greatest drug-related harm is suffered by those who start using at the earliest age.

However, it points out:

Drug education is not always treated systematically but is taught in some schools sporadically by whoever is to hand, rather as Scripture or ‘extra games’ used to be.In the mid-1990s one English county became concerned about the range of drug education being taught in different districts and schools. ‘Whilst some schools offered comprehensive drug education programmes, others taught through discrete modules of work or events, isolated from other topics or skills being developed through the broader PHSE programme and wider curriculum … The concerns identified were:

  • Teaching material … that had little connection with the context in which the children and young people lived and issues that were relevant to their lives.
  • Widely differing needs of children and young people growing up in both rural and urban areas close to a big city, within the same county.
  • An emphasis on stereotyped consequences of habitual use of Class A substances and extreme risks to lifestyle.
  • A lack of continuity between the messages taught by different teachers, in different phases and by external visitors to the school.
  • Where pupils’ drug education was restricted to isolated modules or events, later questions were often inconsistently answered by other adults.’

Filed under: drug education, RSA

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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