Does drug education work?

It is important drug education is based on evidence about what works and what clearly does not work. Many drug education programmes have been evaluated in this country, other European countries and America. Collectively they show that:

  • The impact of drug education on drug using behaviour has been shown to be limited. Drug education alone is unlikely to prevent young people from ever experimenting with drugs.
  • ‘Just Say No’ and ‘shock/ scare’ approaches are likely to be ineffective and may even be counterproductive.
  • Good quality drug education can impact on changes in specific drug using patterns and reduce the use of drugs and associated problems for young people.
  • Drug education can contribute towards decreased harm and increased safety for young people, their families and communities. Drug education has been part of effective needle exchange schemes, safer drug-use initiatives, ‘drink-driving’ campaigns and pill testing facilities at events.

Accurate and up to date information about drugs is an important component of drug education.Wherever possible, programmes need to go beyond information provision to include exploration of attitudes and values and the development of personal and social skills. Life skills approaches are likely to be most effective.

Drug education quality standards

In March 2018 NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) published a drug prevention quality standard covering the prevention or delay of harmful use of drugs by those most likely to start using drugs, already experimenting or using drugs occasionally. This included illegal psychoactive substances, solvents, volatile substances, image- and performance-enhancing drugs, prescription-only medicines and over-the-counter medicines. It describes high-quality care in priority areas for improvement.

In 2016 a PSHE scheme of work for primary drugs and alcohol education was published containing lesson plans, teaching materials and guidance documents for teachers of years 1-6. The resource aims to teach pupils about the risks and health implications of legal and illegal substances, with a focus on the development of skills such as assertiveness and resisting peer pressure.

According to the PSHE Association: The national curriculum states that ‘all schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice’.  The relationships and health aspects of PSHE education will be compulsory in all schools from 2020.

For more information about UK drug education standards see Mentor ADEPIS

Worldwide standards

In November 2018 the UNODC/WHO International Standards on Drug Use Prevention were also updated.

Guidance for schools

In 2012 The Department for Education published guidance for school leaders and staff on managing drugs, drug-related incidents within schools and pastoral support for pupils. Some key points from the guidance include:

  • Pupils affected by their own or other’s drug misuse should have early access to
    support through the school and other local services;
  • Schools are strongly advised to have a written drugs policy to act as a central
    reference point for all school staff;
  • It is helpful for a senior member of staff to have responsibility for this policy and
    for liaising with the local police and support services.

See also:

Making the Grade: School Prevention, Identification and Responses to Drug-related Harm

This 2019 report considers how the UK’s education system responds to drugs by examining the approaches taken to preventing, identifying and responding to illegal drug use and selling in schools. It looks at the policy frameworks that these responsibilities operate within and considers how efficacious they are in safeguarding children and young people from drug-related harm | Volte Face and Mentor, UK

I-Know Knowledge Hub, Education and Prevention – Drugs

I-Know Knowledge Hub, Education and Prevention – Alcohol