How long before the government’s prevention fig leaves get blown away?

Fig leavesMentor has been quoted as part of a short debate on the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report on the government’s drug strategy.

Diana Johnson MP a Labour Party Home Affairs spokesperson, says:

Figures from Mentor, the drug and alcohol charity, show that at present 60% of schools deliver drug and alcohol education once a year or less. That education is often poor, incomplete or totally irrelevant; pupils aged 16 seem to get the same lessons as pupils aged 11. An example given was of sixth-form students being required to colour in pictures of ecstasy tablets as part of their drugs education. Earlier this year, Mentor told me:

“Drug and alcohol education should not be disregarded as a trivial add-on. It should be fundamental to pupils’ education. The links between early drug and alcohol use and both short and long term harms are clear, and there is compelling evidence showing longer term public health impacts of evidence based programmes. The cost benefit ratios are significant, ranging from 1:8 to 1:12.”

In terms of the wider debate there was a welcome focus on the role that prevention can play in reducing demand for drugs, but it is disappointing that all the Minister, Jeremy Browne, has to fall back on as concrete achievements of the drug strategy are the fig leaves of FRANK and the Choices Programme.

The evidence suggests that the FRANK website is unlikely to change behaviour on its own.  It may be that the helpline and other interactive services contribute to some preventative outcomes, but the Home Office have not (under successive government) undertaken or published any research on the behavioural impact of FRANK. Readers of this site will know that the EMCDDA recently recommended any mass media campaigns aimed at preventing drug use are accompanied by a robust evaluation. It is also worth noting that the budget for the services was been slashed to £500,000 last year suggesting that Ministers and officials don’t believe that it is an efficient way of spending money.

Mentor’s collaboration with Addaction on the Street Talk project was the largest single beneficiary of the Choices programme, so while we can be clear what we were able to achieve with the funding we also know that this was a one-off fund which allowed us to deliver the project for less than six months.  There has not been any suggestion from the Home Office that they will be continuing the programme.

It is also disappointing to see the Minister’s response on school based prevention, where he takes the line that good health education is somehow divorced from other educational entitlements.  Again readers of this site probably don’t need reminding of how interlinked risky behaviours and educational outcomes are.

If you are interested in reading the whole debate it can be found here.

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