Drug use and addiction is a world-wide issue which affects all societies, no matter what age, gender, race, income, or geographical location. In 2019, the World Drug Report stated that around 35 million people suffer from drug use disorders globally which require treatment (United nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2019). Drug education programs based in schools attempt to prevent, reduce, or delay children and the youth from using drugs. This paper will review Project LifeSkills Training (LST) and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (D.A.R.E.), discussing the effective and ineffective methods offered through drug education. A personal reflection of drug education will introduce the topic, and following the review, personal recommendations will be offered for drug education in the future.
Throughout my life, the drug education that I have received has been informal for the most part. The fear mongering statements and claims made by my parents, websites among the internet, social media, and discussion through peers, all have contributed to my experience. My parents coming from Afghanistan, the world's leading illicit opium producer since 2001(UNODC, 2001), their idea of drugs was that it terrorizes a country. Constantly being lectured by my parents about addiction and how one drug can lead to another drug, striking fear into me scared me to stay away but did not kill my curiosity. Eventually in my early years of high school, my curiosity and peer pressure led me to smoking out of a “shisha” or “hookah” which moved onto smoking e-cigarettes and vapes. This created a nicotine addiction for me as it was something I would use during stressful times or studying to relax.
A big influence in my life on my education of drugs were my best friends as they were avid cigarette and marijuana users, as well as binge drinkers. My friends constantly being a reminder to me of what negative things could occur to those who use drugs, at the same time teaching me of their own experiences with drugs and alcohol, I was curious as to who was right and who was wrong. Once I saw my best friends could live the same life I could while recreationally using drugs, I chose to experiment myself by trying marijuana. After doing so I realized and immediately regretting it because it did not change my life for the good and I had a very bad trip. My parents and friends are a reminder to me that drugs may not be the thing that is terrorizing society, when actually it is the situation in which that person’s life playing a role in their decision to use drugs.
I have no interest in experimenting in other drugs due to my informal drug education and at the same time there are drugs such as nicotine or tobacco that I may continue to use recreationally, despite knowing the risks associated with it from my informal drug education. Furthermore, formal drug education programs do exist and aim to prevent, reduce, or delay the youth from drug use. Such programs have been proven to be both effective and ineffective in their goals.
Each program is unique in its own way, drug education has no set policies or procedures in place to be followed. An effective drug education program has a main component which involves educating individuals about the drugs and impact each can have on people socially, economically, physically, and psychologically. (Savoji, P.A., & Ganji, K., 2013). Helping individuals increase their self-esteem and appropriate decision-making skills is also a contributing factor. Social and environmental factors can influence individuals into using drugs and some programs fail to take this into account. The programs that mostly focus on teaching their students on ways in which they can resist social and environmental pressures of drug use are effective in reducing substance use (National Crime Prevention Center, 2009). These characteristics can be found in The LifeSkills Training (LST) program which is what makes it so effective. The LST program is based in school systems to teach adolescents from grade 7-9 in a course of 15 classes. The program’s focus is on individual psychological factors associated with user drug involvement (National Crime Prevention Center, 2009). The LST is comprised of three main components; teaching students of the basic knowledge behind various drugs and the potential impact it can have on individuals, educating students on ways to increase their resistance and decision-making skills in relation to drugs, along with improvement of student social skills and self-esteem to face peer and social pressures. The LST program has been found to reduce the usage of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use by 80% making it an effective drug-based education program (2009). Not only has LST been an effective program for younger students but has also been effective for university students as well through increasing their mental health. The University of Near East in Cyprus conducted a study on students through a two-day workshop using LST which showed positive results on increasing mental health of their students (Savoji, P.A., & Ganji, K., 2013). Along with this the University of Mohaghegh Ardabili conducted a study in 2009 using LST which resulted in decreasing mental health disorder symptoms of students suspected of mental health disorders (Sobhi-Gharamaleki, N., & Rajabi, S., 2010). These studies have been proven to be effective, playing a role in decreasing risk associated with drug abuse and resisting peer pressure when making decisions. Students became more informed and rational through what they learned about drug abuse.
The research and studies conducted on the drug education program LST offers has successfully demonstrated a value/decision making model, one of the four fundamental approaches of drug education. LST aims on helping individuals better their situational life-skills while still formally educating them on drug use. Unfortunately, not every drug education program is as effective as LST. An ineffective drug education program that is widely known is the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (D.A.R.E). The program was first created in 1983 by the Police Department in Los Angeles, later unified with the school board as a substance abuse prevention program for K-12 grades (National Institute of Justice, 1994). The D.A.R.E program consists of 17 one hour long weekly classes with a similar end goal outlined by what an effective drug education program would have. D.A.R.E, like LST, aims to help students increase their confidence and build a stronger self-esteem while teaching students of rational decision making and resistance to peer pressure at the same time (Noble, 1997). Students were also informed on certain drugs and societal impact they may have on individuals along with physical and mental impacts. The workshop is operated by Police officers to children and this structure can be what is criticized as being ineffective when examining the D.A.R.E program.
To begin, it is essential to establish an open judgment free atmosphere for a drug education program to be effective (Health Promotion and Protection, 2007). However, in D.A.R.E the police officers are the ones who facilitate and educate the children which can create an uncomfortable power dynamic when attempting to ask questions about drugs and drug use. This may be due to the respect they may have for authorities or simply fear. Along with this, an effective drug education program is most effective in reducing drug use when it is consistent over a number of sessions and period of time. (Stigler, H.M., Neusel, M., & Perry, L.C. 2011). This not found in the D.A.R.E. program as it was conducted within one month not providing consistency and long-term results. One of the many studies conducted on the efficacy of the D.A.R.E. program, results showed increased alcohol and drug use five years after receiving the drug education without any other sessions outside of the one month (Werch, E.C., & Owen, M. D. 2002). Finally, those educating should also be able to provide drug education in ways to make the program effective, in the case that a student may not be comfortable speaking to the individual facilitating the workshop (2007). In the D.A.R.E program police officers are the instructors during the workshop and once they leave their teachers may not have the knowledge to answer any questions or support their concerns. Many students can benefit from on consistent guidance and support outside of the workshop. All in all, D.A.R.E. fails to reduce drug use in the long term and lacks having an impact in changing student drug behaviours (Sing, R.D. et al, 2011). This all sets D.A.R.E. aside from other drug education programs as it is deemed ineffective because it fails to achieve its outlined goals.
I believe drug education programs should pay closer attention to age groups and create an appropriate curriculum according to each age. This means that drug education should develop consistently and continuously based on cognitive maturation of children and youth (Warren, F. 2016). Facilitating the program through schools to students in elementary to high school grades, the youth should be made aware of the reality of substance use and the continuously changing society they live in. Teaching students of certain types of drugs at an earlier age may help deter the use of drugs in later grades and post-secondary education. If I had gone through formal drug education in school, I possibly would have avoided experimenting with certain drugs. I truly never learned the risk factors, the societal issues with drug use, and the vast information on substances up until my post-secondary education. My parents lecturing me on drugs taught me to come to them for questions I had on any substances or curiosities and if they didn’t answer I would resort to my friends. Along with this, social media, television, my own personal experimentation instilled fear in me as the worst news would spread like fire across the internet. There should be a more consistent outlined criteria for effective education, and schools should be obliged to select programs that can fulfill these standards. A Canadian report claimed that interactive, evidence based, and youth focused programs most effective at reducing drug abuse however they must be taught through trained professionals in smaller settings with booster sessions offered (National Crime Prevention Center, 2009). Drug education programs should stray expand from solely teaching good and bad, towards teaching the societal factors that may influence drug use. Issues such as social, race, gender, and economic inequality. Students should be taught to make rational decisions and manage peer pressure in regard to drug use. Such programs should also include resources available to individuals such as counselling for those who may already be using drugs and need support. I believe these components can play a large role in drug education and create more knowledgeable individuals in society when it comes to drugs and substance abuse.
It is inevitable that drugs will perpetually continue to be a part of society as it is embedded in medicine and our history. Whether drugs are illicit or legal, understanding and knowing the risks associated with drugs is essential to being preventative at a young age and the future. An effective drug education program is important to help the future generations in preventing and reducing drug use among all populations.