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Effective Drug Education - what is the evidence?

"Research has demonstrated that universal drug education programmes in schools can have an impact on the most common substances used by young people: alcohol, tobacco and cannabis. this is backed up by Cochrane systematic reviews (Foxcroft and Tsertsvadze, 2011)"  Mentor, 2012

In Wiltshire in order to further reduce drug use among young people and improve drug education, we are committed to promoting evidence based practice.

This has historically been challenging as:

  • the evidence base is limited and developing
  • recent findings have not been widely disseminated
  • not all teachers have received PSHE Education training
  • some common approaches, while popular, are not particularly effective

In May 2012 Mentor and the Drug Education Forum published a range of documents clarifying the current evidence base and making some key recommendations:

Drug Prevention programmes in schools: What is the evidence?

1. The principles of good drug education

2. Principles for supporting school drug education

3. Beyond the lesson plan

4. Engaging parents in drug education in schools and in the community

5. Learning from the life skills programmes in drug education

6. 'Legal highs' (NVPs)

Current evidence shows:

  • Good drug education is underpinned by a whole school approach
  • Most effective drug education is delivered by teachers as part of PSHE Education
  • Effective teachers do not need to be "drug experts"
  • Teachers deliver better quality drug education following PSHE Education training
  • Schools should exercise caution with the use of visitors, particularly when visitors have had first hand experience of problematic drug use
  • Although popular with staff and pupils, the value of bringing in external contributors is often overestimated
  • Drug education should begin before young people have encountered drugs
  • Random drug testing and use of sniffer dogs is counterproductive in the school setting 
  • The evidence on the effectiveness of peer education is mixed
  • A normative education component should be included
  • Scare tactics, fear based approaches that emphasise the dangers of drugs are not effective
  • Provision of factual information about drugs alone does not change behaviour