Giving young people an honest and balanced drug education is the best way to reduce harm [OPINION]

Young people need honest drug education
Sam Woolfe

There is a lack of high-quality drug education in the UK. And if the government is serious about tackling substance abuse, it needs to focus on providing honest and balanced information on drugs.

New data on young people and drug abuse

The Department of Health has published its latest data on young people in treatment for substance abuse problems. Authors found [pdf] that the most common drug under-18s sought treatment for (88%) is still cannabis. Meanwhile, 49% were using specialist services for alcohol misuse, 11% for ecstasy and 9% for cocaine.

Professor Harry Sumnall, a member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, has urged journalists to note how “vulnerability and exploitation” play a crucial role in substance abuse. For example, as this Department of Health report highlights [pdf]:

The majority of young people presenting to specialist substance misuse services have other problems or vulnerabilities related to their substance use (such as having mental health problems, being ‘looked after’ or not being in education, employment or training or wider factors that can impact on their substance use (such as offending, self-harming, experiencing sexual exploitation or domestic abuse).

We can’t tackle substance abuse without addressing the complex, individual needs of users. But young people’s level of education about drugs is also a factor that has to be considered.

Drug education

Drugs education in schools is usually carried out via the Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) curriculum. But in 2013, the PSHE Association published a report [pdf] by the Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service showing that there is a lack of resources when it comes to drug education. And often non-specialist teachers deliver information on drugs and alcohol. It is also doubtful that 1-2 hours (sometimes less) of drug education per year for pupils is enough. This is a highly complex and important subject that deserves more expertise, attention and time.

Giving children a balanced drug education is important. As drug policy think tank VolteFace point out, only talking about the nasty effects of drugs doesn’t seem to deter people from using them. Being honest about drugs, on the other hand, can be a more effective way to engage young people.

Drug education should be about harm reduction. It’s disappointing, therefore, that the government isn’t investing enough in service providers that take this approach. Instead, young people are being left to figure it out for themselves. And while there is plenty of credible information on drugs available online, we should be making it a lot easier for young people to access the information they need.

Get Involved!

– Check out Erowid, a drug information website.

– See more articles from The Canary on drugs.

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Featured image via Wikimedia

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