Drug education and prevention remains a challenging area of the school curriculum; beyond programmes such as Walk Tall it can be a delicate tightrope walk between what can sometimes appear as scare tactics (drugs = death) to an information based approach (here are the facts = make an informed choice). Few would argue against the premise that we should equip each generation with the skills, knowledge and resilience to make positive healthy lifestyle choices in relation to drugs and alcohol; but how we do it and how we do it effectively remains a challenge. For educators, trying to hit the right note with age appropriate, engaging material across all school levels and age groups is tricky.
There is an ongoing, lively debate spread across the internet in relation to a range of drug related issues – the war on drugs, decriminalisation/ legalisation of prohibited drugs, the pros and cons of medical marijuana; with an equally rich range of resources reflecting this broad spectrum of opinions, views and research. As such it can be difficult for educators to identify and source reliable information to support their work amidst all the noise and debate. Two sites that can be relied upon to provide informed resources for teachers to use in their work, particularly from the Irish perspective and experience are: Drugs.ie and Lets Learn About Drugs & Alcohol Together (www.lladat.ie).
This is the most comprehensive online repository for information, support and educational resources available in Ireland. Funded by the HSE and run by the Ana Liffey Drug Project its mission is a simple one: “to help individuals, families and communities prevent and/or address problems arising from drug and alcohol use.” A large part of that mission is to provide a bank of online resources including: multi-media presentations (videos and podcasts) together with evidence based research and publications across the spectrum of substance abuse – from cannabis and class A drugs to prescription drugs and alcohol abuse. All of these resources can be freely viewed and downloaded. Users can also sign up for an ebulletin for the latest news and research on substance abuse issues and there’s also a free secure and confidential helpline for those seeking help or advice on behalf of themselves or others in their care.
In 2014 the site launched an annual national competition for second level students “Let’s Talk About Drugs National Youth Media Awards”, promoting drugs and alcohol awareness amongst teens: “encouraging discussions of drug-related issues by inviting young people to produce a piece of original content relating to drug and/or alcohol use.” The emphasis here is on engagement and critical thinking; teasing out students’ thoughts and feelings on substance abuse whilst at the same time challenging these opinions as they research theme related topics to produce a learning resource. The themes for 2017 for instance were:
- Theme 1: Why do some young people use drugs?
- Theme 2: What impact does alcohol have on relationships?
Projects can be submitted by individuals or groups and the original content can take the form of: (a) News article; (b) Video/animation; (c) Audio recording or (d) Poster design; so there is wide scope for cross-curricular use. Deadline for this year’s competition has unfortunately come and gone but it’s definitely one to put in the diary for next year. Click here or more information on the competition for teachers.
The Lets Learn About Drugs and Alcohol Together Project was established in 2012 by the HSE Mid-West Drug and Alcohol Service in partnership with the Mid-West Regional Drug and Alcohol Forum and the PDST to develop and deliver, in partnership with the school community, an after schools project for parents and children to learn and foster dialogue about drug awareness together. This service is currently only available to schools in the Mid-West but is a great example of how a multi-disciplinary development team (education and health care professionals working in the field of substance abuse) can develop useful and appropriate resources in this complex area. The project is aimed at 2nd year students and supports the NCCA SPHE curriculum guidelines, building on SPHE topics already discussed during class time. Often parents and students approach this subject from different perspectives which can cause problems. The aim of this project is to bring them together, supporting both parties as they have an informed dialogue around the subject and it’s this that makes the LLADAT after school programme unique.
The project consists of two workshop sessions that take place in school or within the community (with the support of the school). Delivery of the programme takes place over two weeks (usually successive and the same evening). The first session is for Parents only covering topics of concern such as:
- What is a drug?
- Why young people use drugs?
- How to talk to your child about drugs
- Importance of Parental influence
- Key prevention messages
- Information on key substances
Meanwhile the second workshop, mediated by a HSE Education Officer, brings both parents and students together building on the first parents’ session and the students’ SPHE classwork covering:
- Cannabis usage affect on mental health
- Solvents abuse link to premature death
- The consequences of alcohol are as harmful as illegal drugs
The LLADAT team have also developed Cannabis Unplugged, a new initiative to be piloted in September 2017 with schools in the mid-West. Post pilot a teaching pack with lesson plans, learning activities, Posters and classroom learning aids including worksheets and information sheets will be made available online to teachers and schools.
Secondary schools in the Mid-West can contact LLADAT here for more information.