Drug Education Takes Many Forms

Drug education does not solely require educating people about drugs; it can also mean educating them about how to use drugs safely. This increases their capacity to mitigate the risks related to drugs, empowering them to manage their substance use. In turn, this helps them make better decisions about use in the context of their own unique situation.

The Safer Use series, developed by the Centre for Addictions Research of BC, offers practical ways for people who use substances to be active players in their own well-being, including helping them develop skills in managing their patterns of use, as well as adopt safer modes of use and ways to mitigate risk.

Safer use

One of the challenges in developing the series was how to address effectively the needs of people who are experienced in substance use yet may be using in risky ways.  As the development process unfolded, it was helpful to constantly ask is the content

  • Easy to understand. “Clear but not simplistic” is a useful principle to keep in mind. The aim is to help the reader grasp and use the content as easily as possible. Some ways to do this include using audience-appropriate everyday words (e.g., “drunk” rather than “intoxicated”) as well as clarifying with illustrations and using informative headings such as “before you start” and “things to avoid.”
  • Relevant. Knowing the audience is so important. Material that is tailored to address specific concerns helps engage people and draw them in. For instance, techniques of safer injecting may matter to street-entrenched youth, but would be less relevant for club- or party-going youth who may be more concerned about “safer tripping” strategies.
  • Useful. Ensuring suggested practices are doable and practical improves the chances they will be adopted. This involves going beyond the ideal (e.g., recommending the use of sterile water) and providing more accessible alternative measures (e.g., boiling tap water). While it’s critical to ground content in sound theory and evidence, lengthy explanations of the research behind a suggested practice can obscure key messages.
  • Credible. Making sure the content is objective and balanced helps build trust. Drug education efforts risk being discredited when messages conflict with the experience of the audience. Therefore it is important to offer an honest and even-handed discussion that acknowledges the positive effects of drugs as well as potential harms.

No substance use is completely without risk, but educating people who use drugs to manage use more safely affirms their self-efficacy – the capacity to increase control over their own health.

Reimer Bette-

Author: Bette Reimer, Research Associate, Centre for Addictions Research of BC

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.

Must we punish in order to teach?

The great appeal of “just say no” is that it is simple – straightforward. But that simplicity replaces a broad commitment to “education” with a narrow application of “social marketing” (the art of selling someone on an idea or behaviour that promotes the social good). Nothing wrong with social marketing, but it should never be all there is to drug education.

A similar narrowing process seems to have happened with our concept of discipline which has largely come to be seen as punishment. But discipline is from the root “disciple,” and a disciple is a student or apprentice – one who is learning. So how did discipline come to mean punishment? Well, because some ancient one discovered that humans do not like pain. And, if you induce pain and associate it with a particular behaviour, a person may learn to avoid the pain by avoiding the behaviour – a sort of hands-on social marketing. All of this is true – but it is not the whole truth.

imagesIt is too simple.

Life is more complex. Not everyone has had the same past experiences or holds the same beliefs or has the same personality. As a result, not everyone reacts the same way to any specific situation, including punishment or a social marketing message. In practice a social marketing campaign that works with some people may, in fact, have a negative impact on those most vulnerable to harm. The same is true for punishment.

So, for example, a zero-tolerance policy related to drug use may help students who are highly connected to the school and motivated to achieve high marks to make sure they do not get caught smoking weed at school. But the same policy might have a very different effect on a student who feels little connection to the school. The resulting suspension may actually be a “badge of achievement” rather than something to be avoided. That means, the punishment has little deterrent effect, but it is, nonetheless, harmful in that it lowers the student’s connection to school and the chance of successful completion. The evidence is mounting that punitive responses are doing more harm than good.

So what can schools do about drugs? The available evidence seems to suggest that multiple strategies are needed and that these various elements of a comprehensive approach need to work together. For example, clear policies that articulate acceptable behaviour can define a positive school culture. But, it is also important that the policies and practices engage all members of the community (including students and their families) in nurturing this positive physical and social environment. Well-trained and supported teachers will facilitate learning environments that engage students as active learners. Restorative approaches to discipline will contribute to, rather than interrupt, learning for students who get into trouble. And a continuum of school- and community-based services will support and promote student and staff health and well-being.

None of this, of course is simple, but then …

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong” (H. L. Mencken).

#4 Dan Reist Preferred

Author: Dan Reist, Assistant Director (Knowledge Exchange), Centre for Addictions Research of BC

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.