A three-year project in the North-East aims to challenge people to explore the risks and consequences of taking drugs through drama.
NE Choices, run by the Drugs Prevention Team in Northumberland and now in its second year, is targeted at 3,500 young people in 13 schools. It works with them, parents, teachers, school governors, youth workers and the wider community.
In the latest drama workshop, performers from the Northern Stage play people with different experiences of drugs and interact with the children in what is described as a cross between the television programmes The Crystal Maze and Cracker.
Research in the first year showed that drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD were easily available in the area, as were prescribed drugs, including tranquillisers, which had found their way on to the black market.
Pupils from all social classes, in urban and rural areas, usually had their first opportunity to try drugs when they reached secondary-school age.
Backing for NE Choices has come from football clubs, the media and business. The multinational Proctor and Gamble, which has its UK base in Newcastle, has been a major sponsor, providing cash and technical help.
The project's team leader, Tony Regan, recognises the expertise the company has been able to offer. "They are consumer orientated and their health and beauty products are aimed at the youth market, so their help with marketing, advertising and publicity has been invaluable," he says. "They can help us to work out how to get the message across to the people we're aiming at."
He adds: "The young people involved like the project because we're talking to them on their own terms about issues that are real to them. It's not patronising. We're trying to help them through the kind of dilemmas that exist in youngsters' lives, but respect their integrity as individuals."
Reports by Mark Whitehead