Drug education

Drug education

Everyone wants kids to be safe. No-one wants them to be hurt, and everyone wants them to lead meaningful active, happy lives. Drug education, whether information-based or skills-based seeks to do this. Yet I have to say that a lot of what I see seems at best useless and at worst harmful. And after 30 years of working with young people, and reading widely through research, some of which supports my views, and some of which challenges my own views, I find it difficult to support ideas which talk about ‘Drug free societies’, ‘Immunizing our children against drug use’, ‘Zero tolerance’ and various other ideas which can sound attractive but can, I think, be counter-productive. I am not arguing an individual right to take drugs, nor any aspect of the ‘I can do what I like to my body as long as I am not hurting anyone else’ argument, I am simply saying that in the (now here IS a value-ridden view) alcohol-soaked, advertising-steeped consumerist world in which we live, occupied by significant numbers of disgruntled and disengaged people, I think we can, if we are not careful, create interest in drugs AND activity where there was none before.

I heard something on the radio recently that kind of worried me…a show about methamphetamines….and I wrote in a comment to the station about it because I think it was a little dangerous. I will not name the show nor the station because I am a fan of both, but on this occasion I think they got it wrong.

This is what I gleaned from that show:
– Methamphetamines are widely used today because they ‘…intensify your awareness…’, ‘…bring you into a partying society…’ and’…seem to fit the current trend.’
– Making these drugs is cheap and easy
– Making these drugs is very profitable. (The figure quoted was $100,000.00 for a night’s work)
– If you want to obtain the legal ingredients from a pharmacist who seems reluctant to supply them, then just act ‘menacing’ because pharmacists will then supply you, because they have a fall-back position of making a ‘safety sale’.

Drug educators have long been wary of the danger of certain forms of drug education in schools because they run the risk of generating interest where there was none. This show had all the ingredients of an advertisement not only for the drug, but for its manufacture.

I can make something attractive by its presentation or merely just talking about it. The following poster has been around Sydney for some time.


The caption says:‘This is the drug that scares other drug users.’ Some of the young people I work with would respond to this with: ‘Bring it on!’ But maybe that’s just the ‘collateral damage.’

I sometimes hear people say: ‘If this saves just one life then it’s worth it.’ Let’s turn this around. If it costs just one life is it worth it? Kids on the outer of our society tend to smoke cigarettes a lot more than ‘mainstream’ kids. Not all of them smoke but a lot do! (And interestingly, there are many smokers amongst those who work with them.) Maybe that’s the price for making smoking socially unacceptable. But somehow it doesn’t seem right.

Okay so if we don’t do all that, what do we do with young people in places like schools? If I may hope and assume for a moment that whatever is presented is done so in an interesting and engaging way, then the following might be part of such an approach:

– What do you just love doing in life?
– What could you NOT live without?
– What do you care most about?
– What is the most amazingly wonderful thing that has ever happened to you?
– What is the most amazingly wonderful thing that you have ever done?
– What are you doing to keep your life, or make your life, the way you want it?

(Done carefully and while being mindful that not everyone has perfect relationships)
– Where do you turn for laughter?
– For support?
– For challenge?
– Where do you look for inspiration?
– What do you most look for in a friendship?
– In a really close relationship?
– When do you feel closest to others?
– If you were having a hard time of life…what would you want from others? (Your friends? Family? Anyone at all who noticed your hard time?)
– What would you do if someone you knew was having a hard time?

– If you needed information about….do you know where you would get it?
– If you realised a friend was getting into trouble with substance use…what would you do?
– What would you do if someone you cared about just started having a hard time of life?
– What would you want if you started having a hard time of life?
– What would you do if a friend of yours (having taken ‘something’ at a party) went unconscious?
– What would you want people to do if you went unconscious?
– Would you call an ambulance for someone?
– Would you want an ambulance called for you?

– How does the world seem to you?
– What does the future hold?
– What would you like the future to be?
– What sort of future are you working towards?
– What have you contributed to your own life recently?
– To the lives of others?

Things like this, I think might just help.

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