Let's Use Our Brains When It Comes To Drug Education

It's time to retire a failed approach.

14/10/2016 11:37 AM AEDT | Updated 17/10/2016 2:33 AM AEDT
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We need to be smart about this.

Rapper 360 has warned young people not to repeat the mistakes he made with drugs, especially ice. There are some useful insights but too much scary entertainment.

It's time we started taking efforts to discourage youthful drug experimentation seriously. Here are three ways to do that effectively.

Firstly, 360 was spot on about the 'Ice Destroys Lives' advertisements. They weren't just a waste of money -- they were also a scare campaign that would have left many young people feeling alienated. Instead we should be using messages that provide accurate and balanced information together with practical strategies while avoiding fear arousal.

Secondly, young people should learn about the world of drugs from the very same teachers who teach them about all other aspects of life. Lessons about drugs should be mixed in with lessons about subjects such as history and geography rather than segregated into special classes. Teachers should be able to teach young people that, just like mountain climbing, drug use can be enjoyable but it can also be highly dangerous and even deadly.

We shouldn't lie to kids as we know most young people will end up experimenting with drugs whether we like it or not. As adults, we want to be there for our kids if and when they get in trouble with drugs. We don't want to shut them out or shut ourselves out by using scare tactics. The '80s 'Just Say No' campaigns failed then and will fail again every time they are used. It's time to retire a failed approach.

Thirdly, harm reduction works. Australia led the way with harm reduction globally in the 1980s with services such as needle syringe exchange, methadone and quality treatment services. But most importantly, harm reduction education helped people who had chosen to take drugs manage their risks. It didn't condone drug use, but accepted that drug use is a part of modern society and managed it without further demonising those suffering from drug-related problems. In the 1980s and 1990s, explicit, peer-based harm reduction drug education helped Australia avert an epidemic of HIV among and from people who injected drugs.

Let's start using our brains when it comes to drug "education".

Rock stars who have used ice and now stopped, telling young people not to use drugs, won't stop young people experimenting with drugs.

Giraffe puppets telling kids not to use ice won't stop young people being curious.

Government scare campaigns portraying people as zombies won't stop people using drugs.

You know what will?

Accurate information, greater access to quality drug treatment services and less inequality. Because if there's one predictor of drug dependency it's this -- if there's something missing in your life and there's a gap that needs to be filled, well it doesn't matter if it's ice or tobacco -- a drug will fill it. For now.

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