Submitted by Neil Hunt, University
1. As well as writing from my professional
perspective I write as someone who is a parent of two children
aged 7 and 11, a school governor and who is regularly involved
in voluntary youth work. I am a Registered Mental Nurse now working
in a university and have been undertaking research concerning
drug use and misuse for more than 10 years. I am research adviser
to the Kent Drug Action Team's Under 18s reference group. I am
a director of the UK Harm Reduction Alliance and a signatory to
the "Angel Declaration", each of which are the subject
of separate submissions to this Committee. This submission has
been prepared specifically for the Committee.
2. Broadly not, as evidenced by:
the escalation in drug use by young
people over the past 10 years which shows no convincing sign of
a widespread distortion of "education"
that is ineffective and wasteful of resources because it propagandises
rather than informing and fundamentally fails to recognise the
sophistication of young people who cannot be "educated"
not to use drugs;
a dangerous distortion of the perceived
risks of ecstasy and heroin by young people as a direct result
of ill-conceived campaigns that are driven by a media-fed moral
the criminalisation of approximately
half of the population of young people within Britain for activities
they largely perceive as benign and incurring risks that are commensurate
with legal drugs used widely by adults:
the existence of an extensive dance
drugs culture across Britain about which little is known and within
which health advice and information provision and the research-base
3. Safer communities:
the failure to address the substantial
individual and community safety harms associated with alcohol
alongside illicit drugs within an overall policy;
the persistence of severe child poverty
and areas of deprivation that underlie the highest levels of drug
problems and which experience the most severe social consequences
of endemic, dependent drug use;
the skewing of treatment provision
towards approaches of uncertain efficacy arising from the premature
rollout of DTTOs whilst the quality, range and access to voluntary
community treatment has remained poor, creating an incentive to
offend in order to gain access to drug treatment.
the inability to engage a substantial
fraction of the opiate-dependent population in accessible treatment
that they perceive as helpful and effective;
the persisting high prevalence of
hepatitis B and hepatitis C among people who inject;
the high rates of overdose among
people using opiates in combination with alcohol and benzodiazepines;
5. Stifling availability:
the increasing availability and reducing
or static prices of illicit drugs;
a legal framework that is incompatible
with British human rights legislation;
the imprisonment of drug users for
drug possession which has a negligible preventive effect, rarely
rehabilitates and frequently intensifies their health and social
the effective abdication of control
of drug distribution to criminal gangs by pursuing policies based
on prohibition, with a resulting unregulated drug market that,
among many things, is transforming urban life by driving the spread
of gun-related deaths in Britain;
internationally through foreign policy
that invests in an un-winnable, and often immoral and corrupt
drug war, whilst treatment that works remains under-invested in.
6. Despite my many and varied concerns,
within the constraints of the available word limit I will focus
on two issues concerning young people that I believe may receive
less attention within other submissions.
7. The following views draw on a qualitative
study of 235 young people's views of drug education (Hunt and
Hart 2000) along with other related experience (see introduction).
8. Unlike other forms of education, for
the most part "drug education" is poorly done and not
based on informing and enabling people to make up their own minds.
Instead, the conclusion that young people should reach is predetermined
and, with few exceptions, the content of drug education is skewed
to try to achieve this. That is not to say that reducing drug-related
harm and developing informed citizens regarding this area of public
policy is not an important objective. However, grounding this
in a "primary prevention" framework drives people towards
an unattainable outcome, is inconsistent with the general principles
of education and disenchants pupils and teachers alike. "Project
Charlie" (Hurry and Lloyd 1997) an isolated study that has
been championed by UKADCU as evidence of the potential of drug
education had a minor effect with a small sample over a short
period and was methodologically weak.
9. From their early teens young people are
generally cynical about their experiences of drug education. The
discrepancy in the treatment of alcohol and cannabis is extensively
commented upon and especially undermines efforts to provide health
information and advice regarding legal and illegal drugs. Many
young people have no interest in drugs and find drug education
irrelevant because it tries to discourage them from doing something
they do not plan to do. Others, including many who are cautious
or conservative in their attitude to drug use, resent the perceived
"prohibition" agenda which they find patronising. Valuable
opportunities to link drug education with other aspects of the
curriculum such as history, geography, economics or regarding
citizenship are rarely taken but are a prominent feature of drug
education elsewhere (Munro 1997).
10. Young people are generally critical
of the poorly co-ordinated way drug education is delivered and
the lack of knowledge of the people delivering it. These problems
are compounded because it is largely premised on "peer pressure
resistance" despite evidence that young people generally
have a lot of agency in these processes and are frequently making
considered, active leisure-lifestyle choices when they use drugs
(Coggans and McKellar 1994; Hart and Hunt 1997). Additionally,
teachers generally feel poorly equipped to deliver "drug
education" effectively and are often reluctant to engage
in it for this reason. The multitude of other demands on teaching
time mean that it is frequently a resented, tick box exercise
and an unproductive drain on teaching resources.
11. Sociologically, drug "education"
largely appears to serve the function of alleviating adult anxiety
about drug use by young people and is based on the false premise
that we can do something in a few hours within the classroom that
will stop young people using drugs. Desirable as this is, there
is no good evidence that this is a realistic expectation. Its
desirability is of course part of the reason why, for the most
part, we collectively choose not to notice that it doesn't work.
12. The ill-concenived shock tactics that
are sometimes employed are especially poor practice. Most notably,
the "Leah Betts" campaign has meant that many young
people now believe that the risks of ecstacy exceed those of heroin
(Balding 2000) despite the gravely discrepant risks between the
two substances. In a context where heroin outbreaks continue to
unfold across Britain (Parker, Bury and Egginton 1998) such misperceptions
are a source of serious concern because of their effects on young
13. For all this, there is valuable information
that can and should be provided to young people and linked with
other aspects of the curriculum and that could effectively highlight
the uncertainties and potential harms that can occur when drugs
are used. Similarly, for the many young people who may use drugs
there are practical harm reduction messages that can be provided.
Regrettably, despite the phenomenal spending on drug education
there has not yet been any government-funded evaluation of drug
education approaches based on harm reduction principles. A fundamental
reconsideration of the purpose and organisation of school drug
education is needed.
"Dance drug" users
14. "Clubbing" has established
itself as a popular and important part of the leisure economy.
"Clubbers" are a substantial segment of mainstream society
who use a wide range of illegal substancespredominantly
the "dance drugs" ecstasy, amphetamine and LSD along
with cannabiswith high rates of alcohol and tobacco consumption
(Measham, Aldridge and Parker 1998). Despite this, there is negligible
investment in research regarding patterns of drug use among clubbers
or the short and long-term effects of their drug use, which remain
15. There is correspondingly little investment
in targeted social marketing aimed at reducing drug consumption
and behaviours such as drug-mixing that exacerbate these risks
or that could alert people to the health risks of new substances
or behaviours that periodically emerge. A precautionary approach
would suggest that this should be widely undertaken. Increased
investment in each of these areas is needed.
16. One key strategy that is used extensively
within continental Europe to collect information about changing
trends in drug availability and as a vehicle for delivering harm
reduction messages is "pill testing" whereby ecstasy
pills that are used within clubs can be tested to establish their
contents. Pill testing is recommended by the European Monitoring
Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA 2001) but is not possible
within the UK because of the way that the Misuse of Drugs Act
is enforced. The law should be amended to enable this measure
to be used to help reduce drug-related harm amongst clubbers.
Balding J (2000) Young People and Illegal Drugs
into 2000. Exeter: Schools Health Education Unit.
Coggans N and McKellar S (1994) Drug use amongst
peers: peer pressure or peer performance. Drugs: Education, Prevention
and Policy 1(1): 15-26.
EMCDDA (2001) On-site pill-testing interventions
in the European Union.
Hart L and Hunt N (1997) Choosers not losers?
Drug offers, peer influences and drug decisions among 11-16 year
olds in West Kent. Maidstone: Invicta Community Care NHS Trust.
Hunt N and Hart L (2000) Drug Education in West
Kent: The Views of Young People. West Kent Health Authority.
Hurry J and Lloyd C (1997) A Follow-up Evaluation
of Project Charlie: A Life Skills Drug Education Programme for
Primary Schools. London, Home Office Drugs Prevention.
Munro (June 1997) School-based Drug Education:
Realistic Aims or Certain Failure. Melbourne, Australian Drug
Measham F, Aldridge J and Parker H (2001) Dancing
on drugs: risk health and hedonism in the British club scene.
London: Free Association Books.
Parker H, Bury C and Egginton R (1998) New Heroin
Outbreaks Amongst Young People in England and Wales. Police Research
Group, Home Office.