Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rethink needed on drug education

This report, from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluates the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, run by the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) between 1998 and 2004. Having obtained an evaluation from a private company, Westat, ONDCP rejected its findings. This GAO report analyses the findings of the Westat report point by point and agrees with its conclusion - that there is 'no evidence that the campaign had a positive effect in relation to teen drug use', and, indeed, that there are 'some indications of a negative impact'.

Despite the $1.2 billion spent on the media campaign and the relative sophistication of many of the methods of information dissemination that it employed, the key message for youth remained the dated, ineffectual and frequently satirised encouragement to 'Just Say No'. This ethos inevitably leads to the definition of a successful drug policy for youth as one that reduces the prevalence of drug use - which may be very different from a policy which reduces the amount of harm arising from drug use.

The ONDCP response, covered in this article from USA Today, was uncompromising and petulant. But although this policy review is unlikely to shift the dominant US governmental attitude towards prohibition and its associated propagandising, its origin within the official policymaking environment makes it difficult to ignore. While drug education in the UK is admittedly far less dogmatic, there is also a sense that it is far less coherent, and a similarly authoritative and evidence-centred review in this country would be welcome.

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