Supplementary memorandum submitted by
Mary Brett, Dr Challoner's Grammar School
The vast bulk of drug education materials available
to schools is of the harm reduction type. In view of the first
statement in The Government's Tackling Drugs Together, "To
help young people resist drug misuse in order to achieve their
full potential in society", this situation is indefensible
with respect to school children who are not using drugs, and never
Surely prevention is better than cureand
cheaper. Prevention is pre-event, anything after that is intervention.
Some primary and middle school children receive
excellent Prevention education from Life Education Centres and
D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). Not only do they give
them all the true facts about drugs, but show them that they do
not need drugs to live a happy and fulfilled life.
We do not let children make critical life decisions
about crossing the road before they are old enough, why should
we assume they are mature enough to "choose" whether
or not to use drugs. Illegality does not seem to figure largely
in harm reduction literature.
The most spectacular success of a Prevention
programme was in the United States between 1979 and 1991. Parents
got fed up with "trendy" excuses for children using
drugs. A huge collaboration took place between parents, teachers,
social workers, the police, customs and children themselves.
The message given out was that drug taking is
not the norm, it is not socially desirable, and that drugs are
illegal because they are dangerous, not dangerous because they
are illegaland it worked!
In the 12 years, total drug use fell by 60 per
cent, the number of users from 23 million to 14 million, cannabis
and cocaine use both halved and daily cannabis use fell by 75
During that period, a survey of young people
in America found that the most common reasons for abstaining from
cannabis use were: fear of physical or psychological damage (over
70 per cent), parental disapproval (60 per cent), and illegality
(40 per cent). Fifty-two per cent were afraid it might lead to
stronger drugs. These findings were recently echoed by Year 10
boys at my school in an English essay.
Parental disapproval is one of the strongest
deterrents to drug use. Many parents seem to be afraid of disciplining
their children. They've got it wrong. Children need rules and
regulations, they need boundaries to kick against. It is the only
way they will feel secure. Many of the boys who come back to see
me after they have left school are ones I have had to discipline
most often in class.
My pupils are among my greatest supporters,
the vast majority are not interested in taking drugs.
On telling one class that I would not see them
on Tuesday 22 January because I was giving evidence to the Home
Affairs Committee, they burst into a round of applauseof
course cynics could put a different interpretation on that! In
another class a boy got very agitated and waited behind. He said,
"Please Mrs Brett, please tell this Committee that my uncle,
who is a heroin addict, is dying and he started on cannabis".
Unfortunately I did not get the opportunity to do this. His uncle
(a favourite) is 24 years old!
Too often we sit around, theorising about drugs
and playing with words. Out there people are dying. Yes, he has
seen the most tragic outcome of drug use and most of us are spared
this, and I don't think I will ever have to say much to this boy
on the subject of drugs.
But brains are being damaged, jobs are being
lost, children are not achieving their full potential and many
many lives are being blighted.
We need to prevent, not do a damage limitation
exercise afterwards. And we need to start now. Prevention is relatively
cheap and successful, treatment is costly.
OFSTED inspections must surely start to address
this problem. At my last inspection (about three years ago), the
Art inspector was charged with the task of looking at PSHE in
the school. He was a charming man, but had not the faintest idea
about drugs, he was quite shocked when I showed him some of the
Jack Straw, then Home Secretary, said in the
year 2000 "If cannabis were legalised, then consumption of
a drug for which the evidence is very strong that it is very harmful,
will unquestionably increase, and in five or 10 years' time, people
will say "Why have you done this?". It will be a hard
question to answer.
Other points I would like to have made:
1. For a government which banned beef-on-the-bone
with its tiny risk of transmitting CJD, and now warning us of
lamb, when we don't even know if sheep carry BSE, it seemed remarkably
sanguine about making more easily available a drug that we know
is very harmful. "We must err on the side of caution"
said a Government spokesman last weekindeed we must!
2. Drugscope often says in its publications,
"We have no conclusive proof that . . .". Nor do we
have any conclusive proof that cigarettes cause lung cancer! In
their 1981 report on cannabis, the WHO said, "To provide
rigid proof of causality in such investigations is logically and
theoretically impossible, and to demand it is unreasonable".
Drugscope's publication, A Drug Abuse Briefing,
has never carried warnings about a possible impairment of the
immune system or possible heart problems, even though this information
has been around for 20 years or so.
3. Whenever a committee of scientists in
the field produce a report on cannabis, they always point out
strongly that the drug is very harmful. This can be seen in the
WHO report 1997, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee
report 1998, a Swedish report 1998, and "Marijuana and Medicine"
4. Many scientific papers over the years
have warned about damage to the immune system and recently much
stronger evidence has come to light. THC interferes with the DNA
of rapidly dividing cells in the body (white blood cells, sperm,
foetal cells etc), and shortens the lifespan of these cells.
5. One of the commonest manuals of drug
education used in schools is "Taking Drugs Seriously"a
strangely ambiguous title! One of its authors, Julian Cohen, told
a Melbourne Conference "Its (Prevention) approach ignores
the fun, the pleasures, and benefits of drug use".
In the manual one can read that a few tries
of crack cocaine do not necessarily produce dependence. Just recently
a Californian Professor warned that using it just once can result
in addiction. The manual also suggests that teachers should not
teach from an anti-drugs stance. If teachers cannot be anti-drugs,
A quote from the manual reads "You smoke
cannabis and sometimes enjoy it, but your friends don't want it
and you think that they have been conned by the boring old farts
into becoming anti-drugs".
6. "No one ever overdosed and died
of cannabis smoking" is a frequent quote from the legalisers.
No one ever overdosed when smoking cigarettes either!
But in 1999, out of 664 cannabis-related deaths
documented in USA, in 187 of them the only drug involved was cannabis.
7. We are "stuck" with alcohol
and tobacco. If discovered today they would almost definitely
be classified drugs.
However, prohibition in the United States actually
worked from a health standpoint. Deaths from cirrhosis of the
liver fell by one third, cases of alcohol-induced psychosis plummeted,
the number of alcohol-related divorces dropped by half and the
incidences of child neglect and juvenile delinquency dropped.