COLLEGES are increasingly aware that they must have policies on drugs, says educational psychologist Carole Mitchell, co-author of a report for the Further Education Development Agency.
Tackling Drugs Together, published in 1997, found that less than one-third of colleges had policies in place, although about half were working on a policy or amending an existing one.
Three years later, she believes there are still huge variations in the way that colleges approach the issue, with some still more concerned about avoiding bad press. "They won't necessarily brush it under the carpet, but they will seek to minimise publicity."
Links between colleges and drug agencies remain patchy, says Ms Mitchell. This is confirmed by Turning Point, the UK's largest charity for people with drug and alcohol problems, which frequently runs projects i schools but has little contact with further education.
Base 10, a Leeds-based drugs project for under-21s, has been invited into two colleges to talk to students and train tutors. Project co-ordinator Rachel Nauwelearts says: "Colleges are not going around scaremongering, but nor do they have their heads stuck in the sand."
Preston College, which held a drug-awareness week last month, has joined other north-west colleges and schools in signing up to a regional health authority initiative. This aims to show parents and students the value of adopting a pro-active approach rather than simply instructing people not to take drugs.
Melanie Johnson, student counsellor at Preston, says students need to know of the health and legal issues of drugs. "We try to provoke a discussion and so raise their self-awareness," she says.