School drug prevention programmes under attack, says expert

SCHOOL drug prevention programmes do not work and promote “propaganda”, according to a leading education expert.

Teacher and author Julian Cohen said such programmes were based on “false assumptions” and could increase drug use. “Drug education does not stop or prevent drug use,” said Mr Cohen. “Shock and scare tactics may sometimes be counterproductive and may even increase experimentation.”

He told a conference organised by the Addiction Research Centre in Trinity College Dublin that drug prevention programmes are based on false assumptions. These include:

* Users are in great danger from drugs, particularly illegal drugs.

* All types of illegal drugs are dangerous.

* Legal drugs are not so dangerous.

* Users take drugs because they are ignorant or have nothing else to do.

* They suffer from low self-esteem and are subjected to peer pressure.

Mr Cohen said research showed that everyone had a lifetime “drug career”.

He said every person “self-medicated” and that many parents over-medicated their children for every and any ailment.

He said most young people used drugs, including illegal drugs, “without experiencing significant problems”. People took drugs for different reasons - experimentation, recreation or dependence.

Mr Cohen said overt peer pressure was rarely significant in influencing young people and that people with low self-esteem were not more likely to use drugs. He called for a programme to increase people’s understanding of drugs and enabled them to reach their own, informed view.

Countering his presentation, Bernie McDonnell of Community Awareness of Drugs, said Mr Cohen was presenting his findings as “gospel truth”, labelling all prevention programmes as ineffective and in the realm of propaganda. The Walk Tall programme in primary schools and ‘On my own two feet’ programme in post-primary schools had come out relatively well in evaluations.

Dr Mark Morgan of St Patrick’s College, Dublin, said there were “totally unrealistic expectations” as to what schools could achieve in this area. He said school programmes should not contradict the experiences of young people, should be adaptable, be age appropriate and be actually implemented. “We could get very pessimistic, but we have had major success in drugs, by which I mean cigarettes.”

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