The heroin agony and the ecstasy

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Adrian King reviews series on drugs and social problems

Care should be taken when selecting books which are to be read mainly by pupils on their own. They have to be eye-catching, interesting, well written, relevant and authoritative.

Sadly, too many of the titles in Wayland's Health Issues series fall short of this requirement. Four of the five drugs titles fail to meet the basic DfES drug guidance criteria: "content (should be) factually accurate and balanced".

Heroin may fail to attract an audience because of its lack of direct relevance to most 11 to 14-year-olds. However, pupils intent on discovery will find a largely negative, opinionated text peppered with inaccurate or dubious information. With few exceptions, heroin users are vulnerable and in pain. Schools are being encouraged to develop their sensitivity to pupils at risk before they turn to this drug, and to liaise with drug agencies to provide support. Neither schools nor pupils need judgmental books that show little understanding of drug education guidance or pupils'


Drugs is no better. Cocaine and Amphetamines and Ecstasy paint a negative picture, overplaying the role of peer-pressure in decisions to try drugs and taking little account of the need to help readers explore and understand factors that may be at work in tempting a young person into drug use.

Accuracy and balance are significant when reading about cannabis, bearing in mind the recent change in legal status, from class B to C. Cannabis is informative and generally accurate, though with an emphasis on the harm this drug can cause. However, the author fails to alert readers to the fact that all minors now found by police to be in possession of cannabis are likely to be arrested.

Pregnancy, despite some thoughtful and informative material, focuses too closely and too early on the problems that can impede prenatal development.

A more accurate title to reflect its wider content would have helped.

Body Image and Stress and Depression demonstrate greater sensitivity and competence and I was glad to see these issues tackled.

The Why? series is better, perhaps because each title has a specialist consultant. Controversial issues are explored with courage, skill and balance. Amid a wealth of information, attention is drawn to arguments used by individuals and governments to justify stances on issues such as asylum-seeking. Case studies, fact files, illustrations and web links are included. Some of the more graphic material could be upsetting, and its use will need careful monitoring.

I would like to have seen some constructive attention to the needs of those who bully in Why Do People Bully? and I was sorry to see the label "bully" used liberally in this book and (less so) in Why Do People Abuse Human Rights? (pictured), though both were otherwise sound and helpful. Both have links to websites, with more information at

Bullying, part of Heinemann's Get Wise series, is thought-provoking and helpful, with author Sarah Medina preferring "bullying" to the "bullies" label. She offers tips and advice to victims and perpetrators alike. She doesn't always assume victims will choose to disclose to teachers, advising "talk to someone you trust", but throws into sharp relief a school's responsibility to respond and act, suggesting how to make bullying less likely and less acceptable.

Right or Wrong strikes a balance between attempting to dictate personal morals and encouraging any decision or stance as long as it's thought through. The author explores influences, opinions, responsibilities and the consequences of decisions.

The Environment considers the needs of the planet and of communities, and stimulates discussion on what can be done by individuals, groups, the school, the community, and governments.

All three books make good use of colour and illustrations, breaking up text without seeming too comic-like, and could be used to plan lessons for the whole class.

Adrian King is a health education consultant

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