Public health bodies call for new approach to drugs

The UK's leading public health bodies have issued a report recommending, among other measures, that all children and young people learn about drugs in school through personal, social, health and economic (PHSE) education.

22 June 2016 | Policy

The UK’s two leading public health bodies, the Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health, are calling for a new approach to drugs that includes decriminalisation of possession for individuals and statutory drugs education in schools.

 The report, ‘Taking a New Line on Drugs‘ was produced by the Royal Society and endorsed by the Faculty of Public Health, and contains key recommendations that include making drugs policy a responsibility of the Department of Health instead of the Home Office.

Royal Society for Public Health’s Chief Executive Shirley Cramer told the BBC: “The time has come for a new approach, where we recognise that drug use is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue, and that those who misuse drugs are in need of treatment and support – not criminals in need of punishment.”

Mentor’s Chief Executive Michael O’Toole joined BBC Three Counties’ Roberto Perrone to discuss the report, and emphasised the importance of not focusing solely on the report’s recommendation for decriminalisation of individual drug posession.

“I think there’s a lot more substance to the report [than simply calling for decriminalisation] that I would hope would get more political buy-in, because it talks about the need to educate young people through schools and through proper, well-founded, evidence-based approaches so that they’ve got resilience to both illegal drugs and to alcohol as well.”

Michael also pointed out that the legal status of a drug doesn’t directly relate to the harm it can cause, but that the harms related to all kinds of drugs can be prevented through effective alcohol and drugs education that prepares young people for the challenges they may face:

“I think one of the points of the report that should be a wake-up call is: alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, they’re all drugs of a certain psychoactive nature. Some are illegal, some aren’t, but actually, some of the drugs that cause the worst harm to people are currently legal, like alcohol and tobacco. What can really prevent those problems is building young people’s life skills and their confidence to be able to make choices as they get older”.

 In a news piece for The Guardian, Cramer agrees that education is crucial to improving public health relating to the harms caused.

“One of the things that strikes us in public health is how important the education piece is – and that we are missing,” said Cramer. Where there is provision, she said, “it is patchy; it depends on the school”.

These findings reflect Mentor’s own research from 2013, which found that pupils generally received only 1-2 hours of drug education per year.

Mentor welcomes the recommendation for drugs education to be taught in all UK schools – an issue we’ve been campaigning on for years – and applauds the President of the Faculty of Public Health’s statement in the report, which says:

“Drug education in schools – provided through the medium of high quality Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education – should be a key part of the curriculum, and taught from an early age. Educational approaches for young people must be evidence-based, interactive and peer-led – ‘just say no’ just won’t cut it.”

You can listen to Michael’s interview on the BBC Three Counties show here (starts at 1:22:00):