Best anti-drug strategy begins with education

There has been much discussion in recent months about Canadian drug laws. Some favour liberalization because the current approach has been unsuccessful in reducing the harm caused by illegal drugs. Others claim that the strict enforcement of existing laws is necessary to control the spread of harmful, mind-altering drugs.

Interestingly, the starting point for both sides is that drugs cause “harm.” What logically flows from this single point of agreement is that drug-prevention education must be a key component in any national drug policy — to minimize the chance of “harm” ever arising.

There are two simple but key points to keep in mind when formulating drug prevention initiatives:

• It is about children. All parents know the importance of nurturing their very young children; we see their minds developing almost on an hourly basis. Recent research shows that the teen brain goes through similar major development, particularly in the prefrontal cortex area that controls reasoning and impulses, and this is the time when the brain is most open to outside influences. Negative influences that can lead to harmful behaviour and positive influences that can inspire the teen to make healthy choices

• It is about parents. Studies show that parents have a greater influence on their children than friends, TV, the Internet or celebrities, and studies show that teens of parents who have discussed the risk of drug use are 50-per-cent less likely to use drugs than teens in families who have not had this discussion.

The Partnership for a Drug Free Canada recently commissioned a national survey which shows that, although parents say it is important to have a conversation with their kids about the dangers of drugs, there is still a lack of meaningful dialogue.

While 92 per cent of parents of 11 to 19 year olds claim to have talked with their kids about drugs in the past year, 40 per cent of parents surveyed admitted that their conversation lasted a few minutes or less. That is not what we would consider a meaningful dialogue.

That’s why our current drug-prevention campaigns, which are targeting parents, put so much emphasis on the need to talk to their kids.  Parents need to educate themselves before they engage. Too many parents jump right in without preparation and the conversation can derail quite easily. My suggestion is: Learn as much as you can so you understand what your kids are facing in the schoolyard, on the street and at gatherings and parties.

In the survey, 97 per cent of parents agreed with the statement “It is important for parents to talk to their kids about drugs,” yet almost half (49 per cent) wished they knew better what to say to their kids about drugs.  Meanwhile, 40 per cent of teens said they “wished they knew better how to say ‘No’ when someone offers drugs.”

It is obvious that parents want to discuss “drugs” with their children but, as we have seen in many countries, they may be reluctant to do so, both because they fear that the kids know more about the subject than they do and because they are uncomfortable about how to enter the discussion.

Yes, we certainly must provide treatment services to those suffering from addiction, while recognizing that the most effective way to reduce the number of future sufferers is to provide the prevention education that can help reduce the number of people ever trying drugs in the first place.

Richard Pound is the founder and former president of the World Anti-doping Agency and the current chair of the Partnership for a Drug Free Canada.

Source:  28th May 2012

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