Is drugs education successful n its attempts to reduce drug taking activity
The major problem facing young people in almost every corner of the world is the problem of drug abuse. It is a widely held belief that young people are at increased risk of drug abuse. There also exist considerable debates on the influence of drug abuse patterns and how young people acquire the habit of abusing drugs. Much of the influence has been attributed to the family, its values, beliefs and behaviour of the parents with regard to substance use and abuse. As such, the involvement of young people with drugs can be largely attributed to parental influence.
On a broader perspective, the main determining factor has been culture which even the parents are a slave to. Culture sets the norms and expectancies around drug use, defining what, when, whether, how and how much drugs young people should use. For instance, the use of drugs such as alcohol and cannabis is deeply rooted in culture. Experiences with drugs, especially alcohol and cannabis, are prevalent among the young people than with other groups. In many cultures, drug use, especially drinking, is highly discouraged before adulthood.
However, the popular culture has led to young people being introduced to drugs at an earlier age, probably within the family in the context of meals and celebrations. This permissive and integrative approach to drinking is common in cultures with Mediterranean style of drinking. The drinking pattern of young people is generally determined by the overall drinking culture. For instance, young people within the Mediterranean culture are likely to drink than their counterparts in other region. (Currie, 2004:32) However, they are often less likely to engage in dangerous drinking habits unlike their Scandinavian counterparts.
These findings show that culture play an integral role in shaping drug abuse patterns for the young people. Other factors also help develop and shape young people’s attitude towards drug abuse, especially alcohol consumption. There are both direct and indirect relationship between drugs and drug problems. The problem develops from the integration of psychopharmacological aspects of the drug, method of administration, choices and circumstances of the user. Within the British policy discussions, the main problems associated with drug use has been crime, health problem and death.
However, these harms are randomly distributed within the British society. There are certain areas which seem more vulnerable to drug related harm than others. Such areas are mostly inhabited by communities or people who are mostly marginalized socially. Studies have shown that the socially marginalized groups of young people and those whose parents use drugs record high rates of drug use than the other young population (Budd, 2005:7). From this, socio-economic deprivation may be linked with drug dependence but not use.
These factors mainly exist within the family since they largely depend on the general family attitude towards drugs. Parents through their drug use habits may influence young people to adopt the same habits since as a young person grows within the family, he or she learns what is acceptable from it. For instance, in a family where one or both of the parents drink, there is a high likelihood of a child growing up within this set up to develop the habit of drinking. However, whether the habit harms the individual in future or not depends on several factors, mostly societal and cognitive.
In the development of drug abuse patterns, the structure of the family may be a risk or protective factor. Young people from strong family backgrounds in terms of support and close relationships are less likely to experience drug abuse patterns than those who come from a loosely structured family. As such, parent supervision and support is important in putting in check the behaviour of young people. Beyond this, there is also the influence of religion, peers and friends which play an integral part in influencing the decision of whether to engage in drugs or not.
Religion tend to protect the young people from the negative influences of drugs hence, a religious young person is unlikely to be involved with drug abuse. The dominant framework used to define responses to drug related issues is harm reduction. Some of the strategies which have often been proposed to be used in schools to curb drug use includes strong policies and guidelines to restrain drug use, strengthening the individual will and the capacity to avoid harm and working with other local bodies like the health, social welfare and the criminal justice.
Among the factors which predispose young people to harm from drugs, environmental circumstances appear to be sometimes the most powerful. The degree of harm experienced however depends on individual variations. It is always very important to prevent the beginning of drug use among the teenagers since this is the period they experience major cognitive, social, biological and emotional changes which may influence their decision to take drugs (Walters, 1994:67). Prevention programs in the United States have demonstrated success with regard to reducing drug use.
However, reviews of research on school based drug abuse prevention pointed towards variability in the extent of program effects. The approach that has been proposed by researchers as an effective and appropriate intervention method is the community approach. These community approaches as a way of realizing positive changes in the lives of the young people target the entire community. This method is deemed more appropriate as it is consistent with the traditions and values of the Native Americans. Evidence suggests that that positive impact has been realized with regard to alcohol and cannabis use through the adoption of community approaches.
This is however inconclusive owing to lack of control groups and the use of poor evaluation methodology (Blackman, 2004:7). Individual approaches on the other hand focus on providing training for the development of self control skills at an individual level so as to bring about changes in the pattern of drug use. The skill training is often integrated with bicultural competence so as to equip the young people with coping skills which will enable them to negotiate between the popular culture and native cultures. This increases the sense of self efficacy in both cultures.
Evidence from research supports this bicultural approach. From research findings, young people who acquired culturally-sensitive skills training exhibited positive change with regard to drug use behaviour (Coomber, 1994:9). Some of these prevention approaches may not be relevant to drug prevention in other countries. There is little evidence as to the success of drug education and prevention in deterring drug use. Most of the school based prevention efforts do very little in reducing drug use and abuse. Those programs which have been effectively delivered have not done much in preventing future drug use and abuse.
Statistics show that quite a number of young people within the school going age have never used illegal drugs (Blackman, 2004:91). However, at some stage, some will be occasional users for specifically medicinal purposes while the majority will experiment with alcohol, cannabis and tobacco. A small percentage of those who experiment will qualify to be labelled problem drug users. As young people tend to grow, they increasingly seek acceptance within their peers. As a way of seeking accomplices, they engage in the behaviour which their peers exhibit. Young people thus become involved into drug abuse.
However, there is interplay of factors which initiate drug use among the young people in many countries. As such, it is the responsibility of every learning institution to consider its response to drugs. The main purpose of drug education is to prepare pupils for healthy and informed choices when it comes to drugs and drug abuse. Expectations on how drug education affects schools are often high just like those of social, personal and health education. In other words, expectations become higher than for most subjects. These expectations are centred on increasing knowledge, changing attitudes and enhancing skills.
As such, these targets are difficult to achieve when they are exclusively centred on the schools. It has been observed that the quality of drug education provisions in schools is improving. The planning of drug education programs has been improved with many schools in a better position to handle drug related problems and incidences. At all the key stages, the quality of teaching had dramatically improved even though lack of subject knowledge by secondary teachers who are continually involved still remains a major challenge for some schools. Another problem that many schools also face is poor assessment practice.
As much as schools, through drug education programs, enable pupils to acquire knowledge on drugs and their effects, friends and families also play an important role. There is both a personal and interpersonal meaning to the use of drugs and an essential set of values which cannot be distinguished from the perceived negative consequences and benefits associated with use. Drug use among the young people occurs as a result of various complex and interrelated factors which includes peers, social environment, advertising, self image and boredom.
Mostly, the use of drugs is often associated with beneficial experiences which have the capacity to enhance socialization. These experiences are further associated with a change in the state of consciousness which stimulates the excitement for risk taking. The preferred approach to handling drug related issues within the context of education has been school drug education. Even though part of a community or a comprehensive national approach, the empirical benefits from these school programs has been limited as much as there have been high expectations of successful outcomes. Shephard, 2003:54) Information concerning drugs and alcohol use is often provided by education departments which also carry out sessions of discussion, decision making and skill building programs. Interventions which sometimes are conducted by personnel of various backgrounds and experience are sometimes one-off. There is a general notion that the efforts of these drug education programs are not effective in either delaying or preventing use. As such, they fail to identify and address the associated problems and needs of the young people. (Becker & Roe, 2005:48)
Education strategies which are separately conducted from the environmental, community or wider school set up are often not recommended. This is based upon the results of various researches on this field. It also encompasses the rejection of drug prevention strategies which focus mainly on illegal drugs and ignore those associated with most harm such as prescription drugs, tobacco, alcohol and over the counter prescriptions. Among the aspects not supported by strategies include an analysis of drug problems, discussions and problem solving exercises which are conducted separately from other strategies.
Such approaches fail to recognize the multiple influences to drug taking decisions. Beyond this, strategies which employ fear as the basic means of behavioural influence, and programs which lack progress, continuity of sequence and hence have no part to play in the formation of a sound health education curriculum, are also not recommended (Johnson, 1990:90). The measurement of success of school drug education should be done as part of a holistic approach to drug use. As such, it should be tested against the wider community and schools with regard to the reduction of harm among the youths.
Future strategy development should be based on the outcome of past school drug education efforts which normally acts as a guide. Strategies which address the reduction of harm from use should be the framework through which drug related issues are addressed. These strategies should be in line with the needs of the target group for them to be effective. There is a strong argument which exists for those prevention models which incorporate multiple forces of the community with the schools’ valuable resources. Structural change, policy development and advocacy should support achievement at the education level within the schools.
Integration of school environment, school curriculum and parent education with multi component community interventions can prove to be highly successful. (Sheppard and Carlson, 2003:76) The output by the students can be highly important in the development, planning and implementing strategy. The role of parents and caregivers in developing and supporting policies and strategies in schools should also be recognized. Any successful strategy development is based on the role and functions of the school based counsellors and other people who have been trained to address issues of drugs within the student population (Higgins, 1988:54).
Various efforts have been made at state and national levels to address school drug education exhaustively. The United States’ National Initiatives in Drug Education project through integrated information strategy was focused on promoting the importance of drug education in schools. This it does through targeting teachers, principals, administrators and the entire community. It also aims at providing teachers and parents with knowledge necessary in assisting the schools and the communities to tackle the issue of drugs in an integrated and sustainable way. Gottfriedson and Wilson, 2003:90) Various departments in states within the United States have achieved specialized and complementary approaches to the drug problem. Health Promoting Schools framework has also been identified as effective in addressing alcohol, drug and other health related issues in the United States. Through providing complementary health practices and policies, the classroom health and learning experiences have been reinforced in schools within this network. The key elements include incorporating social, mental, physical and environmental aspects of health.
It also involves the development of a detailed school health curriculum, close parental cooperation, increased participation by the students and staff in policy development and decision making and support for health promoting programs by all the parties involved. For the strategies to have the widest possible impacts, the health or drug education teachers must be well prepared to handle the range of roles and tasks which are vital for school drug education and other strategies which are related with it (Bennett and Holloway, 2005:56). An advanced and comprehensive tertiary training should also be taken into account.
The capacity for schools to address adequately issues which are related to drugs depends on the kind of training which the teachers have been given. This training should focus on the important aspects of drug use and strategy development. The teachers should easily be in a position to access post graduate in-service training across various skills and knowledge vital for program and policy development around drugs and health related issues. Components of effective drug education and prevention Several attempts to identify the most effective components of drug prevention approaches have been sought by many countries.
This involves analyzing the numerous studies which possess robust methodologies. However, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence conducted an analysis in which they concluded that of the available twenty nine research studies regarding the effectiveness of programs, none exhibited quality standards. However, some papers were seen as partly of good standard. This is compounded on the fact that in the United Kingdom, very little research has been conducted and their models are mainly reliant on conclusion made from studies in the United States (Newcombe, 1986:78).
As such, no conclusive statements can therefore be made with regard to the effectiveness of education and drug programs. However, they do provide the direction through which drug related issues can be approached. In order to mold a healthy environment as well as a healthy community which is free from drugs, the most important tool is always prevention strategies. Drug abuse prevention’s role in the community is to enlighten the young people through parents, community leaders and other concerned institutions on the dangers of using drugs. As such, it minimizes drug abuse among the young people.
A weak or a non-existent drug abuse policy within a community increases the number of addiction. Prevention programs can thus be designed to intervene as early as preschool so as to address the risk factors involved in drug abuse which includes poor social skills, academic difficulties and aggressive behaviour. The most effective approach in curbing drug abuse is therefore the family based prevention programs which enable parents and children to handle drug abuse prevention issues as a family. This approach is largely encouraged in the United Kingdom (Simpson et al, 2007:89).
Parents should also be acquainted with the information which may help them facilitate drug use prevention among the young members of the family. An effective drug abuse prevention program should encompass all kinds of drug abuse. It should address all conceivable methods of drug abuse which includes the use of substances, either combined with other substances or alone, including the use of legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco by young people below the age limit, inappropriate use of prescription medication and the use of illegal drugs.
Above this, prevention programs should address the main type of drug abuse problem in the local community. For instance, in a locale, the main drug being abused could be cannabis or even tobacco. As such these prevention programs should identify the target modifiable risk factors while strengthening the identified factors which are protective. As such, the success of drug abuse prevention program should be measured by the number of individuals who are drug free owing to the knowledge gained from the harmful effects of both legal and illegal drugs.
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