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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Drugs education: The expert
Co-ordinator of the Drugs Education Forum, Louise Crompton, answered your questions in a live forum.

  Click here to watch the forum.  

Schools are to be encouraged to make greater use of shock tactics in anti-drugs lessons.

And new government guidance will give head teachers firm backing to exclude any pupil caught dealing drugs on school premises - even if it is a first offence.

As part of the tough new approach, a video about the death of heroin addict Rachel Whitear is to be made available to all schools in England.

But drugs education experts say they're worried that such hard-hitting tactics could backfire.

They argue that drug education should concentrate on combating alcohol abuse.

Is this the best way to educate children about the dangers of drug abuse? What are the issues involved in drug education?


Transcript:


Newshost:

Compulsory expulsion for pupils caught dealing with drugs is just part of what the Government said is a tough new approach to teaching kids about their dangers.

The Government says the old message of "just say no" has been discredited. But will the new one have any credibility? Here to take your e-mails and texts is Louise Crompton from the Drugs Education Forum.

Louise you're from an organisation which tries to teach children about the dangers of drugs. Do you think this is a good idea?


Louise Crompton:

The Drug Education Forum is actually a group of organisations who are trying to make sure that young people get the drug education that they need. So yes, I do think it's a good idea that drug education happens.


Newshost:

I'd like to go to some of the e-mails that we've got and some of the texts. There's one from Nick T in England: Are shock tactics actually educational?


Louise Crompton:

I think it's very important that drug education helps young people to gain the knowledge, information and the skills that they need to make informed choices about drug use and shock tactics don't really seem to give a whole lot of information to young people.


Newshost:

We have an e-mail from Adam in the UK: I wonder how many of those debating this issue have actually read the research into whether shock tactics work?


Louise Crompton:

I'm not quite sure really how many people have read the research. The Minister did speak today with a roomful of people who were experts in drug education.


Newshost:

We've got an e-mail from Celia Aitken in Edinburgh: When I went to secondary school we were shown a film of a heroin addict's autopsy. I can tell you it made a lasting impression on me - 20 years later, I can still remember the images. So I feel that shock tactics do work and I would like to know why they were stopped in the first place?


Louise Crompton:

I think if people are quite clear that they don't want to use drugs then shock tactics are then shown to be quite helpful. But if people are not quite sure what they want to do, I think shock tactics, as I said before, it doesn't really give them the information or the skills or the knowledge to make decisions that they might have to make in relation to drugs.


Newshost:

So why do you think the Government is actually using this new method - or not a new method but going back to the old method of using shock tactics?


Louise Crompton:

I think there is a lot of concern around drugs at the moment and that the current debate about changing the legal status of different drugs is causing a bit of concern around drug issues. I think the Government is very eager to let people know that they are serious about drug issues at the same time as they're reconsidering the legal status issue might have something to do with it.


Newshost:

Isn't there a problem though with the Government wanting to show that it cares but actually in your view not necessarily using the best methods?


Louise Crompton:

I've just been at a meeting with the Minister for Young People, Ivan Lewis, about how shock tactics might be incorporated into the current provision of drug education and he's very much saying that he doesn't want to change how drug education is provided and the focus on life skills. But it is a bit hard to understand how giving people the shocking messages is going to fit into encouraging young people to talk about their needs in relation to drugs.


Newshost:

When I think back to when I was at school, we were often fed this message of very hard-hitting images about heroin and yet if one looks at how the number of people that are taking heroin has increased over the last few years since I was school, it obviously hasn't worked.


Louise Crompton:

I think there needs to be some decisions made about what we're trying to achieve through drug education. Are we actually trying to prevent use or is it about informing young people and making sure that they have all the skills they need to cope in a world where drugs are quite prevalent and quite easily available.

As I've said, I think it's really important that not only do young people get information about drugs but that they have a chance to figure out what they might do if they're offered drugs in a situation. It can be the case that some people might start using drugs more because of the issues that they face in their life that they're not quite sure how to deal with. So it's really important that drug education is taught in the context of PSHE - personal, social and health education. So young people learn a lot more about how they might deal with conflict that comes up in relationship or how to cope with stress or how to seek help if they have got issues around drugs, relationships or anything else. But it's in the context of teaching them how to get by - what skills they might need to get by personally in the world.


Newshost:

Maria, UK: Children are told that "drugs kill" but not why or how. They get told about addiction, but not what addiction really means.

I suppose that's the point you're making isn't it? There needs to be a fuller education.


Louise Crompton:

I think so. I think very few people get into drugs with the idea that they're going to get an addiction. People generally have the understanding that it's not a very nice thing to have. But I think there needs to be a lot more work about teaching young people to recognise how they might be able to tell the difference between recreational use and when they are starting to use drugs to cope and what to do if their friends seem to be going down that slippery slope as well. I think it's really important that parents find out more about that.


Newshost:

Isn't one of the big problems here the issue of a confused message? So often people are hearing, though TV or in the newspapers or wherever, that cannabis actually isn't nearly as bad as perhaps people once suggested it was. Then on the other hand they're being told that there is this other illegal drug - heroin, crack cocaine - which is still really bad. There is a very confused message which is being put out.


Louise Crompton:

It is quite a new area relatively speaking in terms of health promotion and I think we're also working out how to deal with it. But I think there is a lot of confusion within Government about what message are we trying to give and I think that that's something that really needs to be cleared up in drug education.

It also seems that young people are going to be coming across contradictory messages about drugs at school - they probably get different messages from the media and from films and from their friends. So I think that should also be a part of drug education that you need to try to learn to figure out how to make sense of this information and what information is important to you and useful for you.


Newshost:

Liz Cooper, England: What is the point of this hard-hitting campaign if the Government wants to legalise cannabis? [which of course actually it doesn't - its talked about changing the status of cannabis]. She goes to say: This is just double standards - drugs have either got to be banned completely or not at all.

Would you agree with that?


Louise Crompton:

I don't think so. I think we need to separate out what is trying to be achieved through changing the legal status of drugs - it's about policing time but it's also about recognising that cannabis is very widely used and trying to minimise the on-going effects or the on-going consequences and someone making a choice to use a particular drug. But again I think it is contradictory to people and it is something that we need to sort out in terms of what messages we're trying to give to young people and also helping them to sort through the contradictory messages and helping them to make sense. Which is why it's really important that drug education is about discussion rather than young people being told.


Newshost:

You say it's contradictory, is it not also more importantly very damaging to confuse that message?


Louise Crompton:

Which message?


Newshost:

On the one hand the Government is saying it wants to reclassify cannabis and on the other hand it's taking a hard line against heroin. That it's not being clear about the message that it wants to get across.


Louise Crompton:

I think it is being quite unclear, yes.


Newshost:

Is that damaging then? I suppose the point I'm making is that when you think about advertising campaigns, the advertising campaigns which really work are the ones which have a very simple message that they want to get across. But on this particular message the Government seems to be saying - well actually cannabis is bad but we're going to reclassify it and that heroin is still bad and we're going to go really hard on it. They don't seem to be keeping to a coherent sensible clear message on this.


Louise Crompton:

Yes, I think that's a good point. Young people are hearing lots of different complex messages and we need to be clearer on what they need to know and what we're actually trying to achieve through drug education.

See also:

21 May 02 | Education
01 Mar 02 | Education
14 Jan 02 | Education
01 Mar 02 | Education
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