Scotland’s approach to tackling drug abuse among youngsters, including parading ex-addicts in classrooms, may be “ineffective” and even “harmful”, a government report has warned.
There are now calls for a comprehensive review of how the country deals with substance abuse following a steady rise in drug deaths in recent years.
“Fear-based” programmes, including using police officers in schools to get the message across, does not work, the report warns, with school leaders and health chiefs now being urged to look at other methods.
Drug use among teenage boys has increased, according to recent figures.
The report for ministers, entitled What Works in Drug Education and Prevention?, says it needs to be made clearer which approaches have been successful and which techniques should be avoided.
“There is considerably more, and robust, evidence that shows what is ineffective in preventing drug use among young people,” it states.
“These include fear arousal approaches and stand-alone mass media campaigns.
“Using ex-drug users as testimonials in the classroom – an approach anecdotally considered to be popular in secondary schools in the UK – is also associated with no or negative prevention outcomes.”
Although there is “little knowledge” about the approaches being adopted in Scotland’s schools and third sector to tackle drug-taking, the report makes it clear that anecdotal evidence suggests this approach is “reasonably common”.
Using police officers to deliver classroom lessons on the dangers of drug-taking also has limited success, the experts claim.
“Despite the clear evidence of ineffectiveness of these approaches, interventions based on these principles continue to operate and be funded, both in Scotland, the UK and internationally,” it adds.
“Given that there is strong evidence that these approaches are ineffective or potentially harmful, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs suggests that, for ethical reasons, local commissioners should carefully consider their investment in such approaches and whether such interventions and approaches should be discontinued.”
The report warns that drug prevention works better as part of an approach which promotes healthy lifestyles among youngsters, although those who are identified as being most at risk of abusing drugs should still receive a specific anti drug-taking intervention.
It adds: “Commissioners should consider a range of factors before commissioning any new intervention, including ethical principles, quality standards, avoiding ineffective or potentially harmful programmes or those with unintended consequences, cost effectiveness, the use of a common language when discussing prevention principles and high-quality evaluation.”
New work is now being called for to understand what is currently being delivered in schools and the third sector.
“Such a comprehensive overview of prevention activity in Scotland would allow an assessment of whether approaches have shifted towards social competence and social influence approaches and more generic resilience-building approaches in line with the evidence, and whether what is being delivered in Scotland is cost effective.”
Drugs deaths in Scotland hit a record high in 2015, official statistics have revealed. A total of 706 people died as a result of drug abuse, according to a report by National Records of Scotland.