Can mass media campaigns prevent young people from using drugs?

The EMCDDA have reviewed the evidence for media campaigns aimed at preventing drug use by young people.  They note that one in three affiliated countries say they either don’t run these campaigns or have significantly reduced funding to them.

FRANK meowWe know that this includes the UK government which has cut spending on advertising the FRANK service year on year.  I think it is clear that the content of the last set of adverts that FRANK weren’t trying to effect young people’s behaviour, rather the aim was to drive traffic to the website, helpline and other services provided by the government.  Whether that’ll be true of the next set we’ll wait to see – I’m told there will be a focus on novel psychoactive substances over the summer period.

We have recently looked at other youth focused public health campaigns that Public Health England have inherited which aim to increase the positive conversations about health between peers and between parents and their children.


The conclusion the EMCDDA draw suggests that governments may be correct in being cautious in supporting this form of preventative action over other interventions given the current evidence.

They say:

The pooled analysis of studies found that media campaigns had no effect on reduction of use and a weak effect on intention to use illicit substances. Reports of possible unwanted effects in terms of young people declaring that after having watched a media campaign they were willing to try drugs raises concern. This is particularly relevant for prevention interventions, which are provided without a demand from the target population. Campaigns might affect individuals differently, depending on their level of awareness. However, being informed might not have a direct effect on behavioural change, while perception of norms (the perception that everybody is using drugs) may have an impact.

As a result they recommend that if campaigns are run they are only done so “in the context of rigorous, well-designed and well-powered evaluation studies.”

Public Health England – marketing plan and youth

Public Health England have published their Marketing Plan 2013-14 which includes a section on youth.  The plan acknowledges that teenagers face a number of pressures and that it’s a time when many choose to smoke, drink, take drugs and have sex for the first time.  In response they say:

Our overall marketing objective is to catalyse positive conversations about health between peers and between parents and their children.

They also tell us that their marketing messages will be focused on 11 to 16 year olds on the understanding that once risky behaviours start marketing interventions are much less likely to succeed. Continue reading

Parliamentary Question – DfE spending on drug education

Conservative MP Nick Dubois asks the DfE:

(1) how much the Department spent on educating young people on the risks associated with Class (a) A, (b) B and (c) C drugs in each of the last five years;

(2) how much the Department spent on advertising the risks associated with Class (a) A, (b) B and (c) C drugs via the Frank drug information campaign in each of the last five years.

The DfE Minister, Elizabeth Truss, responds:

The Department for Education does not explicitly fund drug education. School pupils are currently provided with education on the physiological effects of drugs as part of the statutory National Curriculum Programmes of Study for science. They may also receive wider drugs education as part of non-statutory personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.

The FRANK service provides information and advice to young people about drugs. The Home Office, Department of Health and Department for Education work together to support the service. Funding is not allocated to advertising the risks associated with specific classes of drugs.

Here’s an example of the sort of information and advice FRANK has been providing young people.

YouTube and drug videos

YouTube video Brandweer NederweertThis paper, by Paul Manning from the University of Winchester, has some really interesting analysis of the sorts of films being uploaded to YouTube about drugs, the substances being discussed, and the intentions of the film makers.

The paper suggests that for every official drugs education video there are a further 3 videos about drugs on YouTube.  But there is considerable difference in the number of videos made about different drugs and the number of times they get watched.   Continue reading

Government response to Drugs: Breaking the Cycle

The government have responded to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report on drugs.  The select committee’s recommendations covered a range of issues and as such so does the government’s response, but I’m going to focus on what it has to say about two recommendations.

  • Recommendation 13
    The evidence suggests that early intervention should be an integral part of any policy 
    which is to be effective in breaking the cycle of drug dependency. We recommend that the next version of the Drugs Strategy contain a clear commitment to an effective drugs education and prevention programme, including behaviour-based interventions. (Paragraph 75)
  • Recommendation 14
    We recommend that Public Health England commit centralised funding for 
    preventative interventions when pilots are proven to be effective. (Paragraph 76) 

Continue reading

How much did FRANK cost to relaunch?

Sarah Teather, the Children’s Minister, has been asked how much it cost the government to re-design the FRANK website:

The total cost of the re-launch of the FRANK website was £199,000. This includes £145,000 to design, test and build the new website and £54,000 to design and build the mobile site.

She has also given visitor numbers for the last two years.  The site was relaunched in October 2011.