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Pushing prevention

Rock 'n' roll is not in Alistair Ramsay's remit. Sex and drugs are. As health education adviser in Glasgow, he is much in demand when the shock-horror statistics about young people hit the headlines. But last week's latest offering about drug taking among 4,000 teenagers in 33 secondaries in the city brought better news about the impact of drugs prevention programmes, Mr Ramsay insists. They are beginning to get the message across.

The survey by the Glasgow Drug Prevention Team, which is not linked to the education department, revealed 52 per cent of 13-16 year-olds dabble in drinking, smoking and cannabis but a smaller number - 36 per cent - misuse drugs when you exclude alcohol and tobacco. Young people also say they know the dangers involved.

"The Glasgow research confirms the line we've taken in three Drugwise programmes. It is to give young people chances to develop personal strategies to deal with offers of drugs. Schools are doing a good job but drugs prevention has to come out of the schools into situations where young people are given drugs," he maintains.

Mr Ramsay led the Strathclyde teams which produced the Drugwise teaching packs for primaries and secondaries and subsequently distributed across Scotland.

The picture has moved substantially since the scare tactics behind earlier health education campaigns. The mid-1980s HIV blockbuster springs to mind. Mr Ramsay has been an outspoken critic of "scare 'em young" tactics and has regularly pitched into high-level debate with both feet, a strategy that appears to be respected.

His work in Strathclyde has brought him national recognition as a member of the Home Secretary's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs which he joined in 1990. He is obviously doing some-thing right since he has been reap-pointed for another three years.

His national role allows him to tap into research around the world and gives him access to other professionals, not least the police whom he now trains, both north and south of the border. Currently, he is a member of the joint directors of education and police committee which is devising drugs strategies for police officers.

Mr Ramsay came into health education via physical education. Born and bred on the south side of Glasgow, he trained at Jordanhill and moved on to become principal teacher of PE at St Mungo's Academy in the east end. "My entry into health education was in the late seventies because a pupil I taught died sniffing solvents. I opened the paper one day and I saw the photo of one of my pupils staring out at me. He had been sniffing for about 18 months and I did not have a clue. I wanted to find out about levels of sniffing and what to do about it."

Between 1981-84 he moved out of the gym to coordinate a truancy project in PriesthillPollok which led to a staff tutor's post in health education and latterly to a post as adviser in some of the most contentious areas of social policy.

He is comforted, though none the less concerned, by the latest Glasgow research which still shows a number of young people getting into difficulties. The broader picture is better. "The vast majority of young people are not using drugs and we should be saying to kids who are not going to take drugs, 'brilliant, that's fine, that's the way to do it', instead of focusing on the dangers of drugs. I doubt if there's a youngster over the age of eight who does not know taking drugs is bad. The message is getting across but what we find difficult to accept is that youngsters who know it's bad, still choose to take drugs."

Mr Ramsay's more immediate task is to settle in to the post of adviser in the new city council, where his services will be on offer to others around the country as part of the income generation strategy. Gathering in the shekels should not present a problem. In his spare time he is something of a numismatist, or coin collector to you and me.

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