State must regulate drug education, group insists

State must regulate drug education, group insists

'Pseudo-religious' groups are able to hand out leaflets on drugs and industry-affiliated bodies are free to give talks about alcohol in the current unregulated system, warn drug workers.

The State needs to consider regulating drug education and prevention, according to people working in the sector.

The National Drug Education and Prevention Forum heard that education programmes in schools are “inconsistent” and that some schools are still using “shock” tactics.

Richie Stafford of the Dublin North Regional Drugs Task Force said it is the first time people working in drugs education and prevention have come together.

He said Ireland is behind many European countries, where the State regulates who can provide drug education and set standards in the area.

He said such measures, introduced in countries like the Czech Republic and Spain, have “driven out some of the bad practice”.

Mr Stafford said: “Here, you can have industry groups give talks about alcohol and pseudo-religious groups handing out leaflets about drugs.”

He said that some schools here still try to “shock” pupils by bringing in a former drug user, but said such approaches are generally “ineffective”.

Mr Stafford said the drinks industry's message is “responsible drinking”, placing the onus on the consumer, not the supplier.

You [drinkers] are responsible, they do not consider the environmental circumstances or marketing, which shape a lot of attitudes and behaviours.

He said that proper education is about teaching life skills, refusal skills and managing circumstances and scenarios.

He said drug education in schools, done through the SPHE subject, is “inconsistent” with some schools more comfortable doing it than others and teachers generally lacking the confidence or ability to teach it.

He said new Junior Cert and Leaving Cert curriculums are being introduced in September, with a new 'Wellbeing" course replacing the SPHE.

Mr Stafford said that while prevention is a key pillar of the country's national drugs strategy it is a bit of a Cinderella sector compared to treatment and supply reduction.

“Treatment and supply reduction are quantifiable and measurable, prevention is a lot more nebulous and hard to quantify," he said.

He said that under the Icelandic Model there is a massive investment in structured social activity for young people which has seen a significant fall in alcohol and drug use.

Mr Stafford said there are concerns about the increased potency of the cannabis, seen across Europe.

“Anecdotally, and there are also some statistics, there are more pronounced mental health effects from cannabis, at the more severe end, with psychosis and schizophrenia.”

He said there is an attitude among some young people that cannabis “is not really a drug”.

He said there is a “big challenge” to educate people about cannabis, including medicinal cannabis, saying there are “myths and misinformation” circulating.

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