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Drug prevention

Article 33 – The Convention on the Rights of the Child

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances.

Drug Prevention Education works. 

The “Just say no” campaign in the USA 1979 – 1991 saw the number of drug users drop from 23 to 14 million.  Cocaine and cannabis use halved and daily cannabis use fell by 75%.  Over 70% of children abstained from cannabis use because of their scientific knowledge of psychiatric and/or physical harm.  Parents, teachers, church and youth leaders, the police, the children themselves etc. all co-operated to condemn drug use, and it worked.

Practical Ideas to Prevent Drug Use

In the experience of Mary Brett, a retired grammar school teacher of some thirty years and now a director of CanSS Ltd, the vast majority of young people do NOT want to take drugs and are looking for reasons to say “No” to drug-taking friends who are trying to persuade them to join in.  True comprehensive scientific facts about drugs, especially cannabis, give them that excuse, as does random drug testing.  A police initiative saw six schools in her area bring in sniffer dogs, voted for by 98% of parents, 92% of staff and a huge 82% of children.

In 2005, a similar school survey in the UK to the USA “Just say no” campaign found just under 90% of schoolchildren not taking any drug through fear of psychiatric and/or physical harm.  Parental attitudes (60%) and the law (just under 50%) figured heavily in preventing children from becoming involved.

Good quality drug prevention education should include the following sessions:

Scientific Knowledge

Self esteem

Bullying

Assertiveness

Peer pressure

Law

Research shows that the main reason preventing children from ever taking drugs is the scientific knowledge of how drugs cause the psychological and physical harms that they do. 

Academic support should be provided for those struggling with lessons before self- esteem drops.  Realistic goals should be set.  Young people should be encouraged to take part in sport, music and drama.  Children need, want and value rules and regulations.  They feel safe and secure when they have boundaries to kick against.  They respond in class to fair but firm discipline. Parents are often used as an excuse when children don’t want to join in.  “Dad would kill me” is a common “get out”.

In addition, there should be sessions explaining the law.  Young people need to be aware of the impact that a criminal conviction for drug use can have on their careers and life choices.  Some countries like the USA and Australia will refuse visa applications from people with drug convictions, impacting not only on their work lives, but also their leisure and family time.  Holidays and gap year opportunities to travel could be severely restricted. They also need to understand the implications and dangers of driving and undertaking dangerous sports whilst under the influence of drugs – sometimes with fatal consequences. 

Resistance skills are essential to counteract the effects of peer pressure.  Anti –drugs attitudes and the fact that drug taking is not the norm need to be emphasised.

Without good drug education, young people will not understand the impact drug use can and does have on relationships, not just with their families and extended families, but also with their friends. Drug use stifles ambition and can become the sole focus of a person’s life, overshadowing every other facet and leaving them and their families both financially and emotionally drained.

Despite this, drug education policy for the past 15 years or so has been based on “Harm Reduction” (HR). Underlying this philosophy is the assumption that children want to take drugs and so they are given “informed choice” – at the ridiculously tender age of seven. 

The official government drug education policy as laid down in government guidelines is in curious contradiction to our drug laws that set significant criminal penalties for both drug possession and dealing.  “Informed choice” is the favourite phrase.  In government education guidelines, children are not being informed properly.  Government information about cannabis is inaccurate. Furthermore, children are quite incapable of being relied on to make mature sensible decisions in their own best interests as the brain does not finish its development until we reach our twenties, and the risk- taking part of the brain matures before the area responsible for inhibition.  This “informed choice” is both impossible and irresponsible.  In what other illegal activity do we allow them to choose – petty pilfering, spraying graffiti etc?

Harm Reduction charities and school education programmes, instead of trying to prevent children from ever starting to use drugs, give them advice on the safer use of drugs.  This smacks of defeatism and condones drug use. There is NO guaranteed safe way to take any drugs – legal or illegal.  Tips on using drugs “more safely” can and do act as a green light to experiment with illegal drug use in the mistaken belief that they will come to no harm.  Young people should never be abandoned by adults to make critical life decisions that may impair their cognitive functioning or mental health.  Adults have a duty of care to protect and guide young people.  Why is there an age limit (18) in place for the purchase of tobacco and alcohol, but drug taking is being left to choice?

“Harm Reduction” education policies have had the effect of “normalising” drug use rather than preventing it.  Article 33 above requires protection from the drugs themselves – not the harms they may cause.

Last year (2013-2014) 6% of children aged between 11 and 15 regularly took drugs (at least once/month). This is exactly the same number as in the previous 2 years. The average age of first use of cannabis is 13.  We have one of the highest rates of drug use in Europe.

“Harm Reduction” education is not working! 

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