An informed debate in the House of Lords on Monday once again brought the issue of drug misuse, education and prevention into focus. The discussion, prompted by Lord Howarth on behalf of Baroness Meacher, is a further example of the growing importance of drug policy to members of both Houses, significantly at a time when the Home Office is revisiting its drug strategy.
Lord Nash, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, responded to a range of questions by reiterating the Government’s prioritisation of school-based drug education, citing resources from Mentor-ADEPIS, FRANK, Rise Above and the PSHE Association. Mentor is pleased by this stance on drugs education and, particularly, the esteem in which it holds our ADEPIS resources. We are optimistic, therefore, that evidence-based drugs education will continue to play a key role in the forthcoming drug strategy.
Yet the continued development of educative resources on drugs and alcohol should not allow us to be complacent about our efforts to tackle substance misuse among young people. As Lord Howarth noted, we are not at a point where “evidence-based and effective drug education programmes […] are provided for every child in every school.” And with the disappointing decision on statutory PSHE education, it is clear that we – Mentor, the Home Office, the Department for Education and other relevant stakeholders – must redouble our efforts to ensure that all teachers have the knowledge and skills to deliver quality drug education.
Furthermore, what is often overlooked in these debates is that school-based drug education, while important, is only one component of an effective prevention strategy. Where school-based education has some limitations, drug prevention programmes have the potential to foster life skills, self-confidence and resilience to a range of risks. But despite increasingly strong evidence of the effectiveness of certain prevention initiatives, investment remains limited.
By trialling proven programmes and developing our own projects, Mentor has a deep understanding of the transformative impact of evidence-based prevention. Through the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions and the ADEPIS seminar series in particular, we seek to raise the profile of programmes with the best evidence of effectiveness: programmes like the Good Behaviour Game, Effekt and PreVenture.
We have built up a repository of evidence and expertise on what works in universal settings, within the family environment and for targeting young people at greater risk. We know that these programmes are effective in promoting positive outcomes for children and young people and, as we saw at the EIF National Conference on April 12, we know that they will also save money in the long-run: sustained investment in drug prevention could save up to £450 million each year in youth substance services alone.
We are pleased that Baroness Meacher has brought to the fore, once again, the issue of drug misuse among young people. In doing so, she reflects a groundswell of public and political opinion in favour of preventing problems before they arise. With the new drug strategy currently in development, now is the time to ensure not only that we get drug education right, but that we make sustained invest in holistic, evidence-based drug prevention programmes that give young people the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge to negotiate drug-related risks and to thrive in today’s society.