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‘Filling the Moral Vacuum’
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Good Lessons in Drug Prevention

By Peter Stoker
Chairman, National Drug Prevention Alliance — for Freedom Magazine
Not all the news about drug misuse is bad. People have made a difference in the past and can do so again.

You don’t hear about this much, mainly for two reasons: firstly, journalists subscribe to the notion that “good news is no news,” and secondly, efforts to limit drug misuse are often construed by the liberal set as being “anti-liberty.”

There have been some cynical slurs on prevention, of course. The drug lobby will say prevention equals “Prohibition” — seeking to generate a mental image of the failed, American top-down policy to criminalize alcohol use in the 1920s — i.e. one that was government-imposed.

Modern prevention is not comparable. It has been proven not to fail, and is bottom-up i.e. community-led. And whilst Prohibition sought to block consumption of a drug (alcohol) which had been legal and largely condoned in Western society for centuries, the illegal drugs are exactly the reverse image of this status.

“‘Just Say No’ doesn’t work” is another slur — and is also a coded implication that all prevention fails.

Wrong on both counts.

During the 12 years from 1980 to 1992 when America cut the increase of all drug use in all age groups by a staggering 60%, the main programme in place was “Just Say No.” Much more than sloganeering, this was a comprehensive, personal and social development process buttressed by sound procedures and a wide array of activities.

Today’s drug prevention programmes are exploding myths and apathy about the drug problem and are proving effective drug education efforts can help turn the tide of the war on drugs.
All credit is due to the “Just Say No” programme for its contribution to this public health achievement, but success did not come from this programme alone. There were other programmes, but beyond this there were at least three other vital influences — that of young people themselves upon their peers, a very vigorous parents movement (with over 8,000 groups across America) and a trend away from fatalism and acquiescence into a prevention state of mind.

Culture drives behaviour, and unless your combined efforts alter culture you will achieve no more than localised effects.

Of course there is no one culture, there are many; youth culture, adult culture, workplace culture, various music cultures, drug culture — and these in turn split into elements which may sometimes be in opposition to each other. But good prevention work can still impact enough of these “culture groups” to have a profound effect.

Just as America discovered this truth in the 1980s, so did Sweden at around the same time, transforming from a drug-tolerant culture into a drug-preventive one. That didn’t mean society becoming generally intolerant — rather, society was saying ‘I like you but I don’t like your behaviour’.

A closer look is needed at examples of good practice applied in primary or secondary schools, or in the community.

Kangaroo Creek Gang comes from Australia and is a video-based tool to teach youngsters how to make better decisions.

Life Education Centres were conceived by the late Reverend Ted Noffs in Sydney. They now operate in several countries, and in the U.K. have grown strongly over the last decade. Nearly 60 mobile classroom units, as big as any truck on the road and crammed with high-tech audio-visuals, work their way around the country, reaching more than 600,000 British children every year.

Culture drives behaviour.... But good prevention work can still impact enough of these “culture groups” to have a profound effect.
The DARE programme, born in the U.S.A., addresses the same age group but with the added attraction of the classes being delivered by specially trained police officers. DARE is one of the most sustained approaches, with no less than 17 one-hour lessons, “graduation” ceremonies and support activities. Police officers don’t just deliver lessons then disappear; they are expected to sometimes “hang out” with children in the school — which also brings other benefits in terms of police-public relations.

At secondary age much of the drug education work in schools is developed on site, under guidance from Life Education advisors. Currently there is a significant presence of the “harm reduction” approach (see related articles, in this issue) and this will not turn around overnight, but individual agencies are working hard to change the culture. Two exemplary bodies are ADA (Action for Drug Awareness), run by Paul and Janet Betts, parents of the late Leah Betts who died from Ecstasy, and Families for Change, based in Glasgow under the direction of Maxie Richards, one-time “Scotswoman of the Year” for her work with drug users and their families.

As a valuable and engaging read for parents and teachers alike, it would be hard to beat “The Great Brain Robbery.” Written by drug educator Trevor Grice and cartoonist/commentator Tom Scott, it exposes the many myths around drug misuse — particularly cannabis — and supplants them with sound facts in the most accessible forms. It is also available on CD Rom.

The National Drug Prevention Alliance (NDPA) is active in this sphere too, including specialist training for parents. The “Parenting Skills for Prevention” course runs for eight weeks and is a mixture of video, audio and group work. Parents have remarked on how this course has wider benefits, actually getting the different generations talking to one another being one of several causes for celebration. NDPA were internationally recognised last year, when their website was entered into the prestigious ‘Stockholm Challenge’. In a field of over 700 entrants in seven categories it was judged worthy of a First Prize.

NDPA also currently has a doctorate-level research project under way at Brunel University, aimed at improving preventive education. Perhaps one of the most striking adjuncts to NDPA’s work is Teenex, now in its 15th year; exported to Portugal, Poland and Germany, and enjoyed by participants from several other countries, including Sweden, Switzerland, America and Russia. Teenex is a week-long process which enables young people to develop and learn in a safe, supportive environment. They work hard through long days, but fun is an essential ingredient, and no one wants to leave at the end. Graduates show a markedly higher level of drug awareness and resistance to drug use. Several youth have gone on to make media appearances and run their own trainings; this extends to Teenex itself, which is now run almost totally by young people, and is daily helping to turn young people away from drugs.

Good news in the field of drug prevention indeed.

For more information on any of the groups discussed in this article and others working in the field of drug prevention, contact:

National Drug Prevention Alliance
PO Box 594, Slough, SL1 1AA.
Tel: 01753 766 917

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