Australia is following the lead of the United States and sending ex-ice users into schools in the hope they can have an impact on kids’ attitudes towards drug use and prevent use.
The Australian Anti Ice Campaign has recently rolled out a program based on the Montana Meth Project. Former users show confronting images of some of the negative effects of ice use and share personal stories of suicide attempts, mental health problems and deaths from ice.
But, although well-intentioned, there’s little evidence this type of program is effective. It may even serve to normalise, and therefore increase, drug use.
So what works in school-based drug education and how should schools implement drug policy?
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), programs are more likely to be effective if they:
- use interactive methods
- are delivered by trained facilitators
- are delivered through a series of structured sessions, often with refreshers
- normalise the non-use of alcohol and other drugs
- impact perceptions of risk associated with substance use
- provide opportunities to practise and learn personal and social skills.
Programs are more likely to be ineffective if they:
- use non-interactive methods like lecturing
- are information-only, particularly if they are based on fear
- are based on unstructured chat sessions
- focus only on building self-esteem and emotional education
- address only ethical or moral decision-making or values
- use ex-drug users as testimonials
- use police officers to deliver the program.
Australia’s broader drug policy is based on “harm minimisation”. This acknowledges it’s impossible to eliminate drugs from society and that most people will use drugs only occasionally and for a short period in their lives. So reducing harms associated with drug use is the priority.
The Australian government’s Principles for School Drug Education state that drug-education outcomes should contribute to the overall goal of minimising drug-related harm.
In Australia, school programs that adopt a harm-minimisation goal have been shown to prevent and reduce alcohol and other drug use.
What should schools do?
Based on what we know about programs that are and aren’t effective, programs like the Meth Project are unlikely to have any significant impact on drug use. But they may increase acceptability of drug use among students.
Schools should ensure their school drug policy is comprehensive and includes only elements we know to be effective, meaning they have been shown to reduce alcohol and other drug use.
In December 2015, the Commonwealth government launched the Positive Choices portal as part of the government’s drug and alcohol prevention strategy for schools. This provides evidence-based drug prevention resources for teachers, students and parents to support positive choices about drug and alcohol education for young people.