Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Mary Brett, Dr Challoner's Grammar School


  The vast bulk of drug education materials available to schools is of the harm reduction type. In view of the first statement in The Government's Tackling Drugs Together, "To help young people resist drug misuse in order to achieve their full potential in society", this situation is indefensible with respect to school children who are not using drugs, and never will.

  Surely prevention is better than cure—and cheaper. Prevention is pre-event, anything after that is intervention.

  Some primary and middle school children receive excellent Prevention education from Life Education Centres and D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). Not only do they give them all the true facts about drugs, but show them that they do not need drugs to live a happy and fulfilled life.

  We do not let children make critical life decisions about crossing the road before they are old enough, why should we assume they are mature enough to "choose" whether or not to use drugs. Illegality does not seem to figure largely in harm reduction literature.

  The most spectacular success of a Prevention programme was in the United States between 1979 and 1991. Parents got fed up with "trendy" excuses for children using drugs. A huge collaboration took place between parents, teachers, social workers, the police, customs and children themselves.

  The message given out was that drug taking is not the norm, it is not socially desirable, and that drugs are illegal because they are dangerous, not dangerous because they are illegal—and it worked!

  In the 12 years, total drug use fell by 60 per cent, the number of users from 23 million to 14 million, cannabis and cocaine use both halved and daily cannabis use fell by 75 per cent.

  During that period, a survey of young people in America found that the most common reasons for abstaining from cannabis use were: fear of physical or psychological damage (over 70 per cent), parental disapproval (60 per cent), and illegality (40 per cent). Fifty-two per cent were afraid it might lead to stronger drugs. These findings were recently echoed by Year 10 boys at my school in an English essay.

  Parental disapproval is one of the strongest deterrents to drug use. Many parents seem to be afraid of disciplining their children. They've got it wrong. Children need rules and regulations, they need boundaries to kick against. It is the only way they will feel secure. Many of the boys who come back to see me after they have left school are ones I have had to discipline most often in class.

  My pupils are among my greatest supporters, the vast majority are not interested in taking drugs.

  On telling one class that I would not see them on Tuesday 22 January because I was giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, they burst into a round of applause—of course cynics could put a different interpretation on that! In another class a boy got very agitated and waited behind. He said, "Please Mrs Brett, please tell this Committee that my uncle, who is a heroin addict, is dying and he started on cannabis". Unfortunately I did not get the opportunity to do this. His uncle (a favourite) is 24 years old!

  Too often we sit around, theorising about drugs and playing with words. Out there people are dying. Yes, he has seen the most tragic outcome of drug use and most of us are spared this, and I don't think I will ever have to say much to this boy on the subject of drugs.

  But brains are being damaged, jobs are being lost, children are not achieving their full potential and many many lives are being blighted.

  We need to prevent, not do a damage limitation exercise afterwards. And we need to start now. Prevention is relatively cheap and successful, treatment is costly.

  OFSTED inspections must surely start to address this problem. At my last inspection (about three years ago), the Art inspector was charged with the task of looking at PSHE in the school. He was a charming man, but had not the faintest idea about drugs, he was quite shocked when I showed him some of the literature.

  Jack Straw, then Home Secretary, said in the year 2000 "If cannabis were legalised, then consumption of a drug for which the evidence is very strong that it is very harmful, will unquestionably increase, and in five or 10 years' time, people will say "Why have you done this?". It will be a hard question to answer.

  Other points I would like to have made:

  1.  For a government which banned beef-on-the-bone with its tiny risk of transmitting CJD, and now warning us of lamb, when we don't even know if sheep carry BSE, it seemed remarkably sanguine about making more easily available a drug that we know is very harmful. "We must err on the side of caution" said a Government spokesman last week—indeed we must!

  2.  Drugscope often says in its publications, "We have no conclusive proof that . . .". Nor do we have any conclusive proof that cigarettes cause lung cancer! In their 1981 report on cannabis, the WHO said, "To provide rigid proof of causality in such investigations is logically and theoretically impossible, and to demand it is unreasonable".

  Drugscope's publication, A Drug Abuse Briefing, has never carried warnings about a possible impairment of the immune system or possible heart problems, even though this information has been around for 20 years or so.

  3.  Whenever a committee of scientists in the field produce a report on cannabis, they always point out strongly that the drug is very harmful. This can be seen in the WHO report 1997, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report 1998, a Swedish report 1998, and "Marijuana and Medicine" 1999.

  4.  Many scientific papers over the years have warned about damage to the immune system and recently much stronger evidence has come to light. THC interferes with the DNA of rapidly dividing cells in the body (white blood cells, sperm, foetal cells etc), and shortens the lifespan of these cells.

  5.  One of the commonest manuals of drug education used in schools is "Taking Drugs Seriously"—a strangely ambiguous title! One of its authors, Julian Cohen, told a Melbourne Conference "Its (Prevention) approach ignores the fun, the pleasures, and benefits of drug use".

  In the manual one can read that a few tries of crack cocaine do not necessarily produce dependence. Just recently a Californian Professor warned that using it just once can result in addiction. The manual also suggests that teachers should not teach from an anti-drugs stance. If teachers cannot be anti-drugs, who can?

  A quote from the manual reads "You smoke cannabis and sometimes enjoy it, but your friends don't want it and you think that they have been conned by the boring old farts into becoming anti-drugs".

  6.  "No one ever overdosed and died of cannabis smoking" is a frequent quote from the legalisers. No one ever overdosed when smoking cigarettes either!

  But in 1999, out of 664 cannabis-related deaths documented in USA, in 187 of them the only drug involved was cannabis.

  7.  We are "stuck" with alcohol and tobacco. If discovered today they would almost definitely be classified drugs.

  However, prohibition in the United States actually worked from a health standpoint. Deaths from cirrhosis of the liver fell by one third, cases of alcohol-induced psychosis plummeted, the number of alcohol-related divorces dropped by half and the incidences of child neglect and juvenile delinquency dropped.

January 2002

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