Drugs policy: something stirs

How do you prevent young people from using
drugs? The government has now woken up to the fact that it cannot succeed in
stopping the supply of drugs unless the relentless increase in
demand is also stemmed. But, as the Home Affairs Select Committee observes in
its new report on drugs policy, there is precious little evidence available for
what – if anything – governments can do to stop young people from wanting to
experiment with drugs.

The new measures announced by education
minister Ivan Lewis include new training for teachers in drugs education, and a
new brief for Ofsted to inspect drugs education in schools. But without hard
evidence of what is effective, it is difficult 
to see how the measures are going to produce the hoped-for results. Drug
education materials currently range from the “just say no” variety to those
which are desperate to be hip. The select committee encountered a leaflet
entitled How to Survive Your Parents Discovering You’re a Drug User
which advised its readers: “Don’t get caught in the first place. Don’t be
blatant or obvious and  remember parents
search bedrooms and coat pockets.” This was probably not what Mr Lewis had in

The government has now commissioned a long-term
study on the impact of drug, alcohol and tobacco education in schools, but it
is not due to conclude until 2007. In the meantime, one piece of
solid evidence we do have is that the young people most vulnerable to drug
abuse are those excluded from school, so the 11 per cent increase in permanent
school exclusions announced last month is bad news.  

Zero tolerance towards young people caught
supplying drugs in schools will swell the numbers further. It may also deny
teachers and other professionals the flexibility they need to respond to these
young people, many of whom are themselves confused and vulnerable.

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