An update from David Oliver

Posted on March 10, 2011 14:21

Hello. I will have already met some of you personally whilst I’ve been in this role. For others, this will be the first time that you’ve heard from me.

I’m really interested in hearing about your ideas and experiences in turning the key themes of the new Drug Strategy into reality on the ground. So, if you want to tell me and others about successes and challenges in your work to restrict supply, reduce demand or build recovery, please do use this blog to have your say!

Some of you have done so already, including Andrew Brown in his post concerning drug education (8th March at 9.05).

My response to the points that Andrew raises is that all young people should have high quality drug and alcohol education so they have a thorough knowledge of their effects and harms and have the skills and confidence to choose not to use drugs and alcohol. Although education on its own cannot prevent children from the harm caused by drug and alcohol misuse it is an important component in helping them to understand and deal with the dangers of misuse.

Schools also have a clear role to play in preventing drug and alcohol misuse as part of their pastoral responsibilities to pupils. The evidence is clear that to be effective prevention strategies have to look much more widely than education. What schools do, how they respond to drug incidents and how they support pupils is as important as what they teach. Similarly, some of the best evidenced programmes to impact on drug and alcohol use focus on the wider issues affecting young people - family relationships, decision making, self-confidence. That is why the Drug Strategy set out an approach covering early years, family support, drug education, targeted and specialist support for young people.

Ministers have not yet decided on the parameters and process for the PSHE review. But they have made clear their intention to work with teachers, parents, faith groups and campaign groups to improve the quality of PSHE, including drug education.

So to close, I have a few questions for readers:

What’s your experience of being involved in the delivery of drugs education?

Where are you in adopting the wider approach in supporting children and young people that the strategy sets outs?

I look forward to reading your comments.

Posted in: Uncategorised | Leave a comment

16 responses to An update from David Oliver

  • umran salim said...

    March 11, 2011 14:34

    i attended a treatment centre four years ago and have been involed in the drug and alcohol field since, the issue i am trying to riase is that in that time there has been only a hand full of people from the BME communities coming into treatment for drug or alcohol misuse. i have attened a few meetings with drifferent services exploring the issues and found that people from these services are finding it difficult to find out why. i have been exploring this situation and with my own experince found alot out but find it hard to get services to support myself in these area. i would to now what you think and are willing to do.

    Reply to umran salim's comment

  • Andrew Brown said...

    March 11, 2011 17:30

    Hi David, many thanks for your response to the points I raised. We’d agree that an adequate prevention strategy is much wider that drug education.

    You ask for experiences about delivering drug education, and we will certainly ask our members and the wider field to respond to that question.

    You might find a survey we did for an earlier review of drug education to be of some interest.

    All the best,

    Andrew Brown
    Co-ordinator, the Drug Education Forum

    Reply to Andrew Brown's comment

  • Judy Franklin said...

    March 11, 2011 19:36

    I'm a secondary advanced skills teacher for PSHE. In this role, for a part of my job, I go round schools helping them to deliver better quality PSHE lessons (to include drugs and alcohol education) and / or train teachers in this area. As PSHE is not statutory, many schools do not give it the time -nor are they willing to give teacher who do deliver it to students time off timetable to have training (CPD). Many schools have relied on outside agencies to come in and help deliver a planned drugs programme, but the recession has forced many cut backs. I totally agree that schools have a really important role in delivering drugs and alcohol education, and the wider implications of it's effects on young people and their relationships, possible links to crime, examining their attitudes, skills and values etc...But until the subject of PSHE is made statutory, many heads will look to exam results at the expense of delivering this important area - luckily not my head teacher! OFSTED too need to take a more active role and be more consistent in judging PSHE (to include alcohol and drugs education) - this would then put more pressure on headteachers who deem it to be "unimportant" and look solely to an "academic" curriculum

    Reply to Judy Franklin's comment

  • Debby Olyott said...

    March 14, 2011 09:36

    For the past 10 years I have worked as a young persons substance misuse nurse. Over this period of time, I have been involved in the developement of on-going drug intervention clinics at the majority of our secondary education sites, including further education colleges. This has included close work with school pastoral staff and offers ongoing advice and support to young people who are identified as having a drug related concern on a weekly basis working on the premises of the school. We are also able to deliver education sessions and have information stands at particular events and times through the school year.

    Reply to Debby Olyott's comment

  • Sarah Monks said...

    March 14, 2011 09:43

    I have been teaching for 34 years, including PSHE. It is clear when pupils have had no drugs eduaction in previous years as their basic knowledge is poor and inaccurate. This is often caused by the class not having had drug education or a PHSE teacher who is not a specialist and therefore does not have the background information of the skills.

    In short pupils do need drug education. It needs to be delivered by a dedicated PHSE teacher who has experience of its delivery. In the climate of academic subjects having a greater emphasis on the curriculum it is important that schools do not cut the time allocated for PHSE or try to incorporate it in to other subjects.

    Reply to Sarah Monks's comment

  • Mary Brett said...

    March 14, 2011 15:44

    FRANK is the official information site for drug information for children and adults alike. Among other failings, it is out of date.

    FRANK must also begin to tackle the glaring omissions especially in the cannabis section. This is the illegal drug preferred by 14 to 15 year olds.

    Academic performance plummets due to the long-term persistence of THC in brain cells which impairs its functioning. This also causes personality changes, inability to plan, solve problems, find words to express themselves or take criticism, all contributing to the failure to mature properly. At the same time they feel lonely, miserable and misunderstood.

    One in four of the population carries a faulty gene which if triggered in adolecence by cannabis causes the likelihood of mental illness to escalate. This has been known since 2005. But cannabis will cause psychosis in ANYONE - it’s just a matter of how much they take, and skunk users (80% of the UK market) are 7 times more likely to suffer (R.Murray 2009).

    There is increasing scientific evidence for the ’gateway’ theory. Cannabis seems to prime the brain for the use of other drugs - FRANK has no mention of the theory at all. Children need to be warned.

    It says cannabis will make them sick but Nabilone (medical THC) is used as an anti-emetic.

    I could go on!

    Until FRANK is completely overhauled and paints the true picture of the damage caused by drugs, we will see no progress in stopping children from using them. Drug use in 15 year old boys (2009-10) rose by 4% - girls by 5%.

    Reply to Mary Brett's comment

    • David Raynes replied...

      March 17, 2011 11:30

      Mary Brett makes an excellent point. My analysis of the broad failure of UK prevention policy is that the consistent downplaying of the harms of cannabis, for ten years or more, has weakend the UK response.

      The rot seems to have started with the 1999 onwards focus on "the drugs that cause most harm". The Home Office will know (or can establish) where that phrase first appeared in departmental papers.

      The evidence is that the drugs that cause most harm are not (as the Home Office in 1999 postulated), heroin & cocaine, but tobacco & alcohol, closely followed (and the leading illegal drug) by Cannabis.

      It is all simply and rather obviously, a question of prevalence.

      The substantial abandonment by HMC&E, at the end of 1999, of interdiction and targetting of the main cannabis importers, led to a flooded UK market. This was aggravated by the unwise decision to downgrade cannabis (now corrected) and we have reaped the social consequences.

      FRANK is weak on the harms of cannabis. Cannabis is generally the first illegal drug that youngsters are tempted to use. All the evidence is that young people who use cannabis regularly, on the way to school, at school and after school, are beyond education, they become unteachable and fail to reach their academic or personal potential. They become what used to be known as "Blair’s feral youth".

      Get cannabis policy right, get prevention of smoking (anything) right and the UK would be well on the way to a substantial improvement in reducing the total harm from all drugs.

    • Posted by administrator

      Administrator replied...

      March 18, 2011 16:00

      Mary has asked that we amend the last sentence of this comment as follows: Drug use in 15 year old boys (2009-10) rose by 4% - girls by 1%.
  • Sharon Stoddart said...

    March 14, 2011 18:25

    I work for a Charity acknowledged as offering best practice in primary school PSHE education, including drug education at Key Stage Two. Our Charity works country-wide, as well as outside of the United Kingdom. We have hundreds of Schools on our books and see thousands of children through our mobile classrooms every year. Our fellow professionals appreciate the work we do and tell us it is vital. The children enjoy coming to our classrooms and remember much of the work we do there year on year - many children remember it well into their Secondary schooling and beyond. Parents support our work and value it - yet many people, including professionals in the field, have never heard of us. We are called Coram Life Education or, more importantly to children , "The Lifebus".

    Reply to Sharon Stoddart's comment

  • Stacey Smith said...

    March 15, 2011 10:20

    I have been involved in delivering both drug education and treatment to young people over the last eleven years. The main points I wish to share are as follows:


    Without a statutory framework I see it as an injustice to our young people that they aren’t given consistent approaches to something that could affect their lives so adversely. This is more difficult when the messages we receive generally in society are also so inconsistent and confusing. E.g Take this pill to change how you’re feeling but not that one, these drugs are bad and they’re illegal, some of these drugs are worse but they are legal. I’ve seen teachers giving completely biased and inaccurate information which discredits any actual messages that are delivered thereafter.

    Drug education needs to be delivered and linked tightly with emotional literacy and lifeskills as within the SEAL approach. If young people are better supported with their emotional health then this decreases the risk factors associated with drugs including alcohol.

    Willingness and competency

    Whilst some teachers are very competent, the majority either do not want to deliver what they feel to be a difficult taboo subject or they have limited time and training opportunities to do so. We wouldn’t put an untrained Maths teacher in front of a class so why are we allowing teachers to deliver a subject they know nothing about?


    As well as for mainstream pupils but in particularly for those considered ’disaffected’ or ’vulnerable’ the information given by a teacher is not going to be absorbed (if they are there!) It is not going to be real to them.

    I also believe there is a lot more value in informal drug education within youth settings and giving parents more access to attend sessions about drugs including alcohol.

    Lack of targetted information

    The generic FRANK campaign is not targetting the most vulnerable young people. Telling a 16 year old that Cannabis makes you sick when he has been smoking it since he was 12 isn’t helpful. There is great literature being produceed out there (Lifeline, HIT) but often the agencies I work with would not have the funding to be able to purchase them.

    A combination of teacher training, outside speakers, parents and most importantly a statutory framework for ALL schools would help.

    Let’s give our future generations a better chance to succeed by crediting them with honest information and support.

    Reply to Stacey Smith's comment

  • Cal D said...

    March 15, 2011 14:07

    I am Cal D and have completely turned my life around from an incredibly serious drug and alcohol addiction that could easily have killed me.

    I remember at the peak of my active addiction firmly not believing it was at all possible to change, stop or recover.
    I remember at the time genuinely resigning myself to death as being the only solution and even if I had believed change might be possible I still did not know who to contact, where to go or how to begin to create change and recovery.

    I’ve been lucky and I’m not prepared to stand on the sidelines and watch others suffer when the ‘recovery wheel’ has already been invented.
    I have spent the last while planning The Recovery Roadshow.

    The Recovery Roadshow’s mission is to help people, who want a new life, by pointing them to the starting line of ‘the road of recovery’.
    The road of recovery from alcoholism, smoking, drug addiction, obesity & various eating disorders, gambling, depression, domestic abuse, bullying, bereavement issues, PTSD and other similar health topics.

    The Recovery Roadshow will;

    1 Create a definitive on-line ’Recovery Portal’ for the UK public to search for help and support from the various ’life problems’ mentioned above.
    The Recovery Portal will be free and will act like the Recovery Yellow Pages for the UK public.
    All the thousands of recovery agencies and organisations in the UK will be invited to submit their contact details, also free of charge.
    Nothing like this exists at the moment and sufferers and their families just do not know where or who to turn to for help so the ‘Recovery Portal’ will solve this enormous problem.

    2 Establish a continuous annual circuit around UK with approx 80 roadshow events.
    The main recovery players have all agreed TRR is needed and have indicated they will support the roadshow events however I am short of a little bit of funding for a few months and need help today David Oliver please!

    My personal mission is to help others achieve the quality of life that they want and deserve by sharing my recovery experiences and sharing the information I have gathered through my journey of recovery and beyond.
    I love helping others and will always try to inspire and motivate others to experience and enjoy life beyond their wildest dreams too.

    Cal Dunan

    Reply to Cal D's comment

  • Steph Bennett said...

    March 15, 2011 17:47

    I write here as a community safety co-ordinator for a community safety partnership.
    Since 1998 the partnership has consistently supported both the voluntary and public sector in delivering educational work for young people both in and out of school environs. We have never managed to ’crack the code’ for gaining engagement of all schools and have found success in accessing lesson time dependant on personal relationships.
    We currently support binge drinking, knife crime, criminal damage, legal highs awareness and asb related education on an area basis.
    My request for the future is for this extra-curricular work to be given some back up. Not only are the CSP core human resources depleting but as of 2011 - 2012 we anticipate that we will receive no funding so many of these pieces of work will not be happening.
    I believe that this is a negative step that could be overcome if there is a framework nationally for good quality safety and awareness education. This cannot be delivered by parents - the issues facing our young people are vastly different year on year.

    Reply to Steph Bennett's comment

  • Marolin Watson, Hope UK said...

    March 17, 2011 13:13

    Hope UK is a national registered charity that has been involved in protecting children and young people from the harm associated with alcohol and (more recently) drug use for over a century.

    Seventeen years ago, Hope UK established its Voluntary Drug Educator Training Programme, using a 120-hour course accredited with the Open College Network to train suitable volunteers to become Drug Educators in their own communities. Our voluntary Educators work directly with children and young people in schools and youth groups, providing interactive sessions that challenge attitudes and stimulate thought as well as providing drug information and general life skills.

    We have also developed two-day accredited training courses for youth and family workers, both of which have been taken up by voluntary and statutory organisations wishing to include drug prevention in their work with young people and families. Drug awareness sessions are also provided for parents and others.

    Our current strategy is to develop teams of ten Drug Educators in local areas throughout the UK as well as supporting the 160 existing Drug Educators.

    The Drug Strategy states that it is the intention of Government to "…strengthen the quality of alternative provision, including drawing on the expertise of the voluntary and community groups…" Hope UK is one of those voluntary groups and we would welcome the opportunity to play our part in delivering drug education, especially within the voluntary sector. We already work with a wide variety of groups, both faith-based and secular.

    Our reliance on volunteers means that we offer value for money. At a time when many councils are being forced to reduce their service provision, Hope UK is well placed to fill the gap in communities where we have Drug Educators.

    Hope UK faces two challenges:

    1. It is difficult for a relatively small charity such as ours to demonstrate outcomes in an increasingly results-based approach to funding. We follow best practice in prevention and our OCN accreditation ensures high standards in our training courses. We can (and do) measure changes in attitudes and improvement in skills, but can’t (at the moment) measure long term lifestyle choices.

    2. Funding is challenging at a time when there is more competition for the trust, company and individual donor funds that Hope UK relies on. Our work is cost effective, but we cannot function without the infrastructure that allows us to train and support volunteers and maintain registered charity status.

    Reply to Marolin Watson, Hope UK's comment

  • Marilyn Shaw - The Luke and Marcus Trust said...

    March 17, 2011 16:29

    I am a founder member of a bereavement support group. This was formed following the death of my son from a heroin overdose, and after one year clean of drugs at the age of 22.
    My son started with Cannabis, unbeknown to my husband and me, at the age of 14. A lively, outgoing, adventurous. articulate young man he would try whatever was going. There was no drugs education at school. I believe had my son been given the full facts about ’addiction’ and addictive drugs he may not have ventured down that road. At the time there was very little help available and parents were excluded after the age of 16 because of the confidentiality clause. After many unsuccessful attempts at remaining drug -free he eventually used Naltrexone and for one year he worked successfully in the family business. As in many cases he met an old ’friend’ and used again resulting in his death.
    It is a many faceted problem and requires to be dealt with on many levels. Education being a primary one, but also media and entertainment artists who have so much influence over the young people by their example of lifestyle. Sensible methods of help and FRANK certainly not being one of them as they are the current time - harm reduction and containment should NOT BE A FIRST LINE OF HELP for young people. They should be given the true and hard facts of what drugs can do.
    We as a group campaign and go, where ever possible, into schools to explain the destruction drugs have on the whole family - especially when the end result is death.
    In our organisation we found that all our young people started with Cannabis and we feel it is definitely a gateway drug (as explained by Mary Brett in her articles). We have no doubt that it was after using this a definite personality change was noted. No one intends to be an addict and young people do not understand addiction. My son did not. He was desperately unhappy at how it had spoiled his life - he was not weak, he just did not understand how controlling drugs are.
    Marilyn S Shaw - The Luke and Marcus Trust

    Reply to Marilyn Shaw - The Luke and Marcus Trust's comment

  • Sophie Macken said...

    March 17, 2011 18:16

    Sophie Macken, Project Lead for the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs

    The most effective forms of education in preventing drug misuse, including alcohol, are:

    - Risk and resilience education.
    - Influence of parents - role modelling.
    - Parents talking to young people about issues.
    - Social norms approach.
    - Ban alcohol advertising and sponsorship particularly in sport & music
    - Minimum price per unit for alcohol

    This education should be focused on:
    - Hidden Harm - those whose parents/siblings have drug/alcohol issues
    - Key life changing moments - support if lose a parent/looked after/leaving care
    - Those leaving prison
    - There needs to be a spiralling curriculum from nursery, revisited year on year for all children/young people, the content of which is informed by their need. As a result, all groups’ needs will be addressed in a relevant and appropriate way.

    Ways to support parents:
    - Improve knowledge of drugs and alcohol harms and why people use them
    - Information on when and how to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol and other sensitive issues
    - Parent training
    - Understand importance of role modelling

    Ways to support communities:
    - Set an example
    - Diversionary activities/alternatives
    - Cut number of outlets for alcohol including illicit vendors
    - Insist on low/zero alcohol beers etc be available for sale in all outlets

    Reply to Sophie Macken's comment

  • Jan Forshaw said...

    March 18, 2011 11:57

    From: Education Director, Coram Life Education, the largest national charity supporting primary drugs education, since 1986. Working with 4,000 schools and 800,000, children per annum. DoH InformationStandard kitemark accredited.

    We wholly support David Oliver’s statement that all young people should have high-quality drugs education and believe that early intervention providing a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes is most effective. We need a clearer understanding that drugs education should not be too strongly focused on drugs themselves. People use drugs and experience problematic drug use for a whole range of complex reasons.

    It’s crucial that drugs education is an integrated part of schools’ PSHE programmes beginning in Foundation years (young children’s understanding that medicines have potential to be both helpful and harmful provides a good template for future understanding of the risks associated with all other drugs) where children and young people can explore their attitudes to risk and enhance their understanding of social and emotional as well as physical well-being in order to develop their decision making skills and help them meet their own needs as they grow up. Making PSHE statutory would raise its status, therefore improving the quality of drugs education within it.

    Prevention strategies do need to include more than drugs education. Involving parents/carers is paramount; developing parents’ knowledge of the risks of all drugs and also of their role in developing their children’s confidence and decision-making skills. Evidenced risk and protective factors demonstrate this and also point to intervention opportunities.

    Adopting strategies where effectiveness is clearly evidenced avoids driving adolescent alcohol use (for example) into even more unsafe behaviours. Inappropriate strategies for targeting teenage drinking have been shown to have the effect of forcing young people into riskier drinking environments and using more easily concealed stronger alcoholic drinks.

    Evidence from Social Norms studies show that young people (and adults) overestimate the scale of drug (including alcohol) use and the impact of this is to normalise - and potentially increase - that drug use. Drugs education programmes would benefit from including normative education within their scope.

    From our experience, young people want their drugs education to be interactive, engaging and delivered by credible professionals. Teachers are best placed to deliver drugs education but don’t necessarily have the time, training or resources to manage some of the complexities involved. Effective external providers can support and contribute to effective outcomes within the context of a wider community approach.

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