Ambitious for Recovery: tackling alcohol and drug abuse begins with prevention

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) recently released a paper, Ambitious for Recovery, which recognises the rising social and economic costs to society and sets out "a new course" for an incoming government to address alcohol and drug abuse in the UK.

15 December 2014 | Policy

With persistent media focus on substance misuse and the recent questions over the government’s alcohol and drugs strategy, it seems an appropriate time to draw attention to an important report released by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) earlier this year, which was discussed in the House of Commons last week. The paper, Ambitious for Recovery, recognises the rising social and economic costs to society and sets out “a new course” for an incoming government to address alcohol and drug abuse in the UK.

1.6 million people in England are dependent on alcohol; 300,000 are addicted to opiates and/or crack. Drugs cost society £15 billion each year and alcohol a further £21 billion.

Among key measures to tackle supply of drugs in Britain, to reform our treatment system and to respond better to patients, Ambitious for Recovery places great emphasis on enhancing effective prevention in schools. Although the number of young people who drink every week is in decline, more frequent drinking – of two days per week or more – has risen in the past decade, reflected by a 117 percent increase in hospital admissions of under-30s for alcohol-related liver disease. Further, one in six pupils has used an illegal drug and the number of young people who have taken a Novel Psychoactive Substance, or ‘legal high’, is the highest in Europe.

Young people, CSJ argue, are being let down by a lack of effective prevention programmes. Drugs, alcohol and tobacco is covered only once a year or less by more than 60 percent of schools between ages seven and eleven, findings which are echoed in Mentor-ADEPIS’ 2013 report Drug and alcohol education in schools. Since only one in ten children would call the FRANK helpline for information and guidance about drugs, there could be a real risk that the dangers of NPS in particular are being underestimated.

The message that schools “must do more to ensure their pupils are protected from drug and alcohol addiction and abuse” is one that Mentor has articulated ever since its foundation. Prevention and early intervention is the most effective means for ensuring that children are protected from alcohol and drugs, mitigating the societal costs of long-term substance abuse and, most importantly, allowing the next generation of young people to thrive.

Most recently, this message has been promoted by Mentor-ADEPIS, which has developed a toolkit of guidance and is working with schools across the country to ensure that teachers have adequate resources to deliver evidence-based alcohol and drug education. There are, however, as Ambitious for Recovery points out, “structural arrangements” that hinder effective drug education in schools: curriculum constraints and a lack of specialist training and resources, in particular, place constraints on schools and teachers.

We therefore support CSJ’s timely and much-needed appeal for government to support and incentivise schools to deliver quality evidence-based drug education and prevention. We believe that drug education should be recognised as a statutory requirement, encouraging schools to place greater emphasis on this topic; and we gave evidence to the Education Select Committee to further this agenda, as well as supporting the PSHE Association’s campaign for statutory PSHE education. However, as shown by both Mentor ADEPIS and CSJ, there is an outstanding need for schools and teachers to be equipped with improved funding and resources in order to achieve higher standards in drug education and prevention.

Finally, Mentor is pleased to see CSJ feature the Good Behaviour Game (GBG) as one of two exemplar programmes that build protective factors around children.

GBG is an approach to classroom management designed to improve children’s behaviour and concentration, while reducing disruptive behaviour. The programme has built up a substantial body of evidence from other countries indicating immediate and lasting improvements in pupil behaviour, classroom disruption, educational attainment and a reduction in risk-taking behaviours in later life, such as criminality and alcohol and drug dependence.

Mentor is thrilled to be working with the Education Endowment Foundation and the University of Manchester in running a two-year randomised controlled trial involving 74 schools to measure the programme’s impact on primary school children in the UK. We hope that the project will deliver results that lead to wider acceptance and application of evidence-based prevention interventions.

As a charity, Mentor specialises in understanding and promoting prevention programmes that have the best chances of success. Our goal is to bring them into the mainstream. We are delighted by CSJ’s recognition of prevention as a key component of a more considered approach to the challenge of alcohol and drug misuse, and hope that such endorsement will ultimately help us to achieve our goal.