The challenge of NPS

There’s an interesting opinion piece by Yury Fedotov, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime looking at the messages for young people around new psychoactive substances.

He argues their legal status creates difficulties for making one of the traditional arguments made to young people to avoid drug use – i.e. don’t use them because they’re illegal.  

Fedotov says that the law remains an important environmental prevention strategy, and points to reductions in the use of mephedrone in the UK once it was made illegal.  (Whether the change in the law was the trigger for the change in use is another matter – it could be that word of mouth about some of the unpleasant side effects were just as instrumental, or the reduced level of media coverage after the initial intense interest in the drug.)

But he recognises that governments are finding it difficult to keep ahead of the chemists and as a result he argues:

Perhaps more than any other drug, the specific challenges of NPS call for a determined focus on raising awareness among young people. Critical to this approach is engagement. This does not mean hazy and unrealistic propaganda to young people who know better. It means reaching out to young people at the level of science and rational discussion. We should also be prepared to be educated ourselves. Discussion is dialogue. It’s vital that we turn the two-way street into a broad freeway for interactive exchanges of information.

Raising awareness is also about challenging preconceptions. Discussion of drug use must include young people who use drugs. We cannot risk a small elite, certain in their own views, but largely divorced from the experiences of many other youngsters.

When the Drug Education Forum were asked to look at how schools could address the issue of legal highs we argued that whether the topic is ‘legal highs’, cocaine or alcohol, what helps young people is PSHE education that:

  • is needs-led and age-appropriate, putting the pupil at the centre;
  • is a two-way, interactive process of learning;
  • enables pupils to explore their own and other people’s attitudes and values;
  • challenges misperceptions about the prevalence and acceptability of drug use among peers; and
  • develops pupils’ personal and social skills to manage risk, solve problems and communicate effectively.
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