Drug Education Blog

The goal of drug education

Posted September 02, 2011 by Dan Reist

In my garden, I have a variety of nice “plants.” I also have some nasty “weeds,” despite my best efforts to eradicate them. Funny thing is, some of my “plants” were “weeds” when I was a kid and some people think bindweed is an attractive “plant.”

We have a similar problem with the word “drug.” Most of the drugs that are now prohibited in Canada were previously “medicines” used, in part at least,  for therapeutic purposes. But times change and “plants” become “weeds” or “weeds” become “plants.” Or often, we remain conflicted such that they are “weed” and “plant” at the same time. Police arrest young people for using stimulants at a party while doctors prescribe them to hyperactive children.

Furthermore, hedonistic or “recreational” use of psychoactive drugs is part of the fabric of everyday life in our culture, and virtually every other culture.  We use them for enjoyment, to improve our sense of wellbeing, or for momentary escape from the routine. But we are not always comfortable calling them drugs. Caffeine and alcohol are more akin to food in our minds.

But we still need to protect the kids. So we adopt “zero-tolerance” policies and market “drugs are dangerous” messages. But eventually most of them will conform to our social norms and regularly use psychoactive substances. Some will experiment in ways that result in accidents, unsafe sex, violence, life-threatening overdose or other self-harm. And our social marketing of messages, inconsistent with our cultural reality, has done little to protect them.

These were some of the challenges we faced when we set out to develop some new drug education materials a few years back. We decided that if the social marketing techniques of the “age of persuasion” were not working, maybe we should return to an ancient strategy. This is reflected in the words of Shakespeare's herbalist, Friar Laurence:

Within the infant rind of this small flower

Poison hath residence and medicine power:

For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;

Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.

The Friar is aware of the ambiguous nature of the medicines he dispenses and seeks to offer some guidance on their use. We describe this approach as promoting “drug literacy.” That means imparting the knowledge and skills needed to effectively navigate a world in which psychoactive substances are present and commonly used. Appropriate literacy involves a basic understanding of psychoactive substances and their impact on the people who use them as well as the network of personal, social and environmental  factors that  influence use-behaviour and outcomes. Furthermore, appropriate literacy involves possessing skills to ‘influence the influences’ (e.g., self-reflection, social skills, self-management, helping skills).

As with most things in life there are no guarantees. Young people may choose to take risks. And sometimes the unintended consequences are devastating. After all, even Juliet’s feigned overdose turns out to be deadly. But like the Friar, we believe the best we can do is impart the wisdom of the ages and trust our young people can use it effectively. For further discussion of this I would recommend several of the essays in Drug Education in Schools: Searching for the Silver Bullet edited by Richard Midford and Geoffrey Munro.

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Deena wrote:
14 Feb 2012
  I appreciate you taking time to contribute. That's very helpful.


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About this Blog

This blog is managed by the Knowledge Exchange team at CARBC. Articles are selected to support the application of comprehensive school health approach in addressing substance use in K-12 schools in British Columbia.

If you would like to submit an article for publication in this blog, please send it to helpingschools@carbc.ca.