The First Five Years

NDPA started in a modest way in early 1993, after a year of exploratory work. Of course nobody was standing idly waiting for NDPA to appear, and the value of the initiative had to satisfy hard-nosed, already overworked agencies and individuals. By May 93 the clear need for NDPA was acknowledged, and the first formal meeting of the Executive got things moving.Attendees included Life Education Centres, Hope UK, prevention specialists Positive Prevention Plus, Ben’s friends (named for Ben Wood who died from ecstasy use), health promotion specialist Anthony Johnson, and other concerned individuals. From these small but substantial beginnings the Alliance has extended to the point where its ‘constituency’ now conservatively numbers more than ten million people.

As well as entities in the four ‘home nations’ and the Irish Republic, major groups like Life Education Centres and DARE UK, and high-profile campaigners like Jan and Paul Betts, we now have links with an even more diverse range of interests groups. Mrs Frances Lawrence, widow of murdered headteacher Phillip Lawrence and Anne Pearston of Dunblane’s ‘Snowdrop’ campaign are but two examples. Why would they be interested in the NDPA? Because they recognise, as do we, that drug misuse is part of a much wider picture of social behaviour in which we must all strive (as our general leaflet title says) for
‘a prospect of something better’.

The Executive has met at least four times a year every year since then, and the many and varied outcomes are touched on in this brief paper. The detail of our activities fills several filing cabinets and not a few floppies and zips. The most expedient way for you to find out more, if you want, is to contact us personally; we will be very pleased to assist you.


NDPA’s formal ‘birth’ coincided with the first drafting of ‘Tackling Drugs Together’. We were asked by then – Minister David Maclean to meet with Sue Street, director of the Central Drugs Coordination Unit (CDCU) in Whitehall. We made a good impression by the calibre of our input, and the eventual publication gave us much grounds for encouragement. From that time on we have sustained a good working relationship with the CDCU under Stephen Rimmer, and now in its new existence as the office of the UK Anti-Drugs Co-Ordinator, Keith Hellawell (and his deputy, Mike Trace).

NDPA is increasingly in demand for conference appearances, including the Scottish National Drugs Conference, the Irish Drug Squad (Garda), ‘Frank Talks’ (Belfast), DARE Graduation, Isle of Man Life Education, Scottish Chief Police Officers, several international presentations, and many more. Trainings have been held in Glasgow, Lake District, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and of course the Metropolitan area, where several have occurred. Several police forces continue to use our consultancy resources.

As well as technical papers for ‘Tackling Drugs Together’ (TDT) and its successor ‘To Build a Better Britain’ , NDPA has produced a great many others, including papers for the three main political parties. These and other papers covered such subjects as drug strategy and philosophy, prevention technology, educational techniques, enforcement approaches, constructive/rehabilitative justice systems, drug information, and more. Two leaflets summarising cannabis research (one for youth, one for parents) have been reprinted twice already, their content having been validated in ongoing meetings with Professor John Henry and Professor Heather Ashton.

Very little of this would have been possible without the National Lottery Charities Board (NLCB) grant. Coming in summer 1997 the grant was worth just under £150,000 over three years, and we volunteered to put in another £50,000. Companies House rigorously screened us before allowing our definition as ‘National’. NLCB also vetted us closely, because NDPA was an unknown quantity, but their analysis proved positive; they put their faith in us and for that we are eternally grateful.


Our opening comments on ‘TDT’ still hold good today and indeed were strongly echoed in our imput to ‘BBB’, which came in two slices – a four page summary called ‘Adjusting the Focus’ and, in January 98, a 28 – page formal proposal.

The main thrust was that Britain’s strategy needed to be strongly focussed on primary prevention, buttressed by sensible but unequivocal legal structures. Our words were ‘Prevention coupled with firm but fair laws’. When BBB came out it called for ‘Firm laws plus prevention’ – not a million miles away, it would seem.

Inculcating cultural changes in favour of healthy lifestyles.
Constructive justice system.
Workplace prevention.
Harm reduction kept in perspective.


A perennial bugbear of our work is the legalisation lobby. This has taken us to formal/informal debates at Cambridge, Oxford, Colchester, even Westminster. Several reams of paper have gone into technical presentations. Our extensive international links help greatly on this and other subjects. The Media regard us as ‘first port of call’ on this subject, and we have featured on BBC World Service (130 million listeners) BBC TV, Channel 4, Readers Digest (5 million readers), The Guardian, and on. And on. We have faced up to drug smuggler Howard Marks, ‘heroin doctor’ John Marks (no relation). The Government seem to hope that their unequivocal stance against law relaxation (for which, much thanks) will make all the legalisers shut up and go away. Far from it.


The main focus of our work is on youth, and services to skill them, to enable them to resist drug misuse. We were taught a long time ago by a wise old trainer that “we rarely succeed at anything unless we have fun doing it”. This remains a mainstay of our youth work, and probably accounts for the fact that so many of our youth participants stay with us for so long. Another guiding principle is Youth Empowerment, through the medium of Peer Prevention (which is like Peer Education, but much wider in scope). We now have a Youth Training Team which is capable of organising and delivering prevention programmes, and prepared to travel anywhere – expenses permitting.

Besides the Teenex programme, which looks set to spread into Wales before too long, there is the excellent Youth Trust in Devon which is currently planning to expand into after – school services for ‘latchkey’ youth. Meanwhile services to the younger set are impeccably provided by such as Life Education and DARE. For the latter we recently completed a meta-analysis and synthesis of international evaluative research which is now aiding their development programme.


‘To Build a Better Britain’ is a 10 year strategy with regular interim reviews; we have met Keith Hellawell and Mike Trace several times, and will sustain this dialogue. We have just started two research studies, in hand at Brunel University, to run over 3 years. Our existing parliamentary contacts need increasing, and likewise the media work is bound to step up – with fierce demands every time someone else says something libertarian or outrageous (or both). The legalisation/decriminalisation/’harm reduction + no prevention’ lobby will remain vocal. There is also the small matter of funding NDPA for the next decade. Above all we need to ensure two things: greater union (a stronger voice) amongst prevention agencies and supporters across the community; and greater efforts to lift quality (and prove this quality by evidence–based evaluation). Should keep us busy for a while……………

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