Drugs damage limitation lesson

The 'Just say no' approach to drugs education is not working so Strathclyde Police's new DVD focuses on the harm drugs cause, reports Douglas Blane

A smartly-dressed young man swings a sturdy metal case on to the table, unlocks it and slowly opens it, revealing an array of valuable contents to the teenagers who have gathered around and are jostling each other to gain a better view. Laid out neatly inside is a sample of just about every drug available on the streets of Scotland: cannabis, cocaine, heroin, acid, speed, Ecstasy and magic mushrooms.

The interest in the children's faces suggests that the man could sell the entire contents several times over. But that is not what he is here for. He isn't a dealer. He is PC Mike Wakeling, a drugs awareness officer with E Division of Strathclyde Police, and he is giving a drugs awareness talk to school refusers, assisted by a comprehensive new DVD commissioned by the force and funded by pound;50,000 from the Scottish Drugs Challenge Fund, administered by Scotland Against Drugs, with support from other organisations.

Like the suitcase's contents, the DVD, Which Way? A Life Guide to Drugs, is attractively packaged. But you can't help wondering if this is a good idea. Surely giving vulnerable young people all this information in an accessible form you are in danger of making them think about drugs and encouraging those who haven't tried any to do so?

There are at least two schools of thought about this, says Inspector Stuart Neill, who led the project to design and produce the DVD. "In Scotland we tried the alternative with the 'Just say no' campaign. It didn't work.

"So, the approach we take now, on the recommendation of Scotland Against Drugs, is harm reduction. This aims to help people make informed choices and reduce the damage they do to themselves and their communities.

"Our new DVD will be used by drugs awareness officers to illustrate their talks to schoolchildren, youth groups and voluntary organisations. It contains no images of dead bodies because that wouldn't be appropriate for a young audience.

"In any case, if you go for shock tactics and then ask people what they remember, they'll always tell you about the bodies but they won't necessarily remember any useful information."

At the premises of Right Track, the charity that delivers educational programmes to vulnerable young people, the DVD seems to be going down well with the school refusers.

PC Wakeling's calm, knowledgeable presence, as well as the respect with which he treats his audience, are playing their part. However, it is also clear that the information and images, as well as the ready navigation from one topic to another, are grabbing the interest of the youngsters, whose attention span in a classroom would normally be measured in minutes. The talk lasts two hours and covers only a fraction of the DVD's contents.

Topics discussed include the classification of drugs, the many names for each, the short-term and long-term effects they have on users, the dangers to mental and physical health, the legal penalties for possession and dealing and many of the misconceptions surrounding drugs.

"I heard a politician recently talking about what will happen now cannabis is being legalised," says PC Wakeling. "Well, cannabis is not being legalised. It is being reclassified, from a class B to a class C drug, which means the maximum penalty for possession goes from five years in prison to two years with an unlimited fine."

The official launch of 'Which Way? A Life Guide to Drugs', produced for Strathclyde Police by the multimedia design company 55 Degrees, will be on Monday, September 16, at Celtic Park. For details contact Inspector Stuart Neill, tel 0141 532 4600.The charity Right Track provides educational opportunities to vulnerable young people. Contact Gill Kirk, tel 0141 556 1991; e-mail jimg@righttrack1.freeserve.co.uk

Drugs: the choice is yours

Which Way? A Life Guide to Drugs, the new DVD produced for Strathclyde Police and supported by Scotland Against Drugs, gives a range of harm reduction messages in line with the Scottish Executive's Know the Score strategy. It says that if you choose:

* not to use drugs, then you are with the majority of young people in Scotland;

* to experiment with drugs, then you should get information about the implications;

* to use drugs regularly, then you should get information about the potential harm which can be caused, to yourself, your family and ultimately your community.

Importantly, it says that if drugs misuse has made your life chaotic, choose to stabilise it and stop as soon as possible to reduce further harm.


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