Substance misuse and early intervention; a role for schools

Above are the slides I used at a conference on substance misuse and the role that schools play.

The argument I was trying to make was that the protective role that schools can play isn’t just down to the quality of their drug and alcohol education, or even the broader PSHE agenda (important though that is).

Rather we need school rules that are clear, applied consistently and help to identify and support students when they may be getting into trouble.  The curriculum needs to help young people develop relevant skills and values, rather more than focusing on facts about drugs or alcohol.  A positive school ethos that builds attachment has also been shown to be a powerful protective factor in young people’s lives.  And being able to make sure that vulnerable young people have early access to appropriate services means that problems can be dealt with before they lead to more intractable problems.

The presentation lead to two sets of interesting and important questions.

Firstly about the role of ex-users in drug education.  We heard from the audience about three distinct ways that schools and other organisations work with those in recovery from addiction:

  • As motivational speakers – through whole school or class assemblies
  • Following a programme delivered over a number of weeks – where students can then ask questions based on information acquired through the programme
  • As mentors to young people who are receiving treatment themselves

My sense was that broadly the audience would find it very helpful if there were some proper research done into the outcomes that might result from these sort of interventions.

The second issue that was raised was about identifying those at most risk, particularly those who are already using substances.  There was feedback that the changing patterns of use, and in particular the use of ‘legal highs’, may be changing the speed at which risk was becoming apparent.  One participant talked about the speed at which some young people were now moving from first use to turning up at A&E being a matter of weeks rather than months or years.

The question this raises for me is whether we have sufficiently good local data and screening tools to react to what might be quite localised problems.

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