Positive signs of growing political consensus on life-skills approach to prevention

As we wait on the Commons Committee report on Psychoactive Substances Bill, Mentor is hopeful not only about the role that prevention and education will play in the government’s response to NPS, but also about the increasing importance of prevention within the Government’s wider drug strategy.

As such, we are particularly pleased to see, and support, the letter that the Justice Minister, Mike Penning MP, wrote to the Commons Committee on 17th November 2015 in response to the contributions made by Committee members during the Psychoactive Substances Bill debate held on 29th October 2015.

It was reassuring to see several MPs highlight the importance of education and prevention in responding to NPS use, with Lyn Brown MP in particular speaking eloquently about the need for a holistic, life-skills, and age- and needs-appropriate approach to alcohol and drug education. In this respect we are delighted to note Mentor’s work and mission referenced and stressed as part of Ms Brown’s interventions.

We would like to reflect upon some of the points made by Rt Hon Penning MP in the aforementioned letter, in the hope that these are echoed both in the Committee report and in a wider shift to prevention in the UK drugs strategy.

“it is vital that we prevent people, especially young people, from using drugs in the first place and intervene early with those who do start to develop problems. This is as true for psychoactive substances as for controlled drugs”.

We are pleased to note the recognition of the importance of early intervention measures that reach children and young people before they have developed problematic habits, use or dependence to substances, whether controlled or not. Given the current developments and the repercussions that the Psychoactive Substances Bill will have in the field of education and prevention, it is crucial that evidence-based, life-skills, and holistic approaches are chosen to prevent use of all types of substances, associated harms and interconnected risks.

“We take a broad approach to prevention, in line with international evidence and recent evidence provided by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). It combines universal action with targeted action for those most at risk or already misusing drugs.

Our approach moves beyond merely raising awareness about specific drugs and providing information via schools. We recognise that in order to resist drug use, young people and others need support in building the resilience and life skills required to tackle the range of factors which make them vulnerable to misusing drugs.

The ACMD’s report, Prevention of drug and alcohol dependence, highlighted the importance of embedding universal drug prevention actions in wider strategies that aim to support healthy development and wellbeing in general. It also recognised that targeted, drug-specific prevention interventions remain a valid approach to those individuals considered to be at a high risk of harm.

The ACMD report also acknowledges that there is strong evidence that some prevention approaches are ineffective at reducing drug misuse. These include standalone school-based curricula designed only to increase knowledge about illegal drugs, fear arousal approaches, and stand-alone mass media campaign”.

These paragraphs are particularly welcomed, as a reflection of Mentor’s core essence: the promotion of evidence-based practice and a holistic, life-course, systemic approach to prevention.

It is pleasing to see acknowledgement of evidence-based practice – investing in ‘what works’ in prevention – at a Government level. Equally important is the recognition of ineffective approaches that should be avoided if we, as a community, wish to protect children and young people from a range of complex and interlinked risks, including substance misuse.

This growing understanding and prioritisation of evidence-based prevention also reflects global trends, where community-wide, holistic responses to substance use have become a substantial priority. Indeed, in September 2015 Mentor was given the opportunity to share examples of good practice from the work undertaken through the Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service (ADEPIS), and to contribute to  new international guidance currently being developed by UNESCO, UNODC and WHO.

The guidance will surely further support the ongoing debate and related upcoming strategies, by providing recommendations for implementing appropriate education sector responses to substance use among children and young people, with a focus on collaborative evidence-based prevention. (Click here to find out more about our contribution to the International Expert Meeting with UNESCO, UNODC and WHO).

Mentor is proud that ADEPIS already incorporates many of the recommendations that will be put forward in the forthcoming report, which will be published next year. Ongoing collaborations with a number of government offices (Department for Education, Public Health England, and the Home Office) in supporting a holistic approach to alcohol and drug education support Mr Penning’s assertion that the UK is heading in the right direction in achieving good practice.

“We have implemented a range of activities to support our approach. In Committee, I undertook to provide details of this work.

The Government has invested in resources to support schools. For example, Mentor UK runs the Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service which provides practical advice and tools based on the best international evidence, including briefing sheets for teachers on best practice.”

Evidence-based prevention is playing an increasingly prominent role in shaping governmental strategies and policies, but there is still some way to go. We are, as ever, committed to continuing to provide evidence of effectiveness, information and resources to support not only providers, but also the Government, in improving the national status of alcohol and drug education and prevention.

Meanwhile, we look forward to the Commons Committee report on the Psychoactive Substances Bill, in the hope that it reflects the above messages and contributes to a much wider shift towards evidence-based prevention in the UK’s response to tackling drug misuse.