What is it?

Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack is a resource for teachers, counsellors and community leaders. It is designed to encourage critical thinking among young people about drug and alcohol issues within their community, as well as empower them to take ownership of safety strategies and contribute to the development of effective drug and alcohol policies. It includes a range of class activities that ask young people to reflect on:

  • their views about the use of alcohol and other drugs (illicit, prescription and over-the-counter),
  • how these issues affect them and their peers,
  • how we as a community respond to these issues,
  • and whether we could respond more effectively.

How did it start?

It began in 2014 when Australia21 and the Ted Noffs Foundation held a workshop in South Australia, where we brought a large group of young people together with experts in this area, to discuss the impact of drug and alcohol issues in their community. The quality of discussions at that workshop was so impressive that Australia21’s youth committee, YoungA21, decided we should build on them and take them to a much wider audience. So in partnership with the Australian Lions Drug Awareness Foundation (ALDAF), YoungA21 and Australia21 developed Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack, to help teachers hold similar discussions with their students in a classroom setting.

How does it engage young people?

Young people led the development of the conversation pack, with guidance from drug and alcohol advisers, so the youth approach and language is authentic. It doesn’t tell young people what to think, it encourages them to think for themselves: to consider the effects that both drugs and drug policies have on their lives, and on the lives of their families and friends. It also recognises that it’s most often young people who are directly affected by drug and alcohol issues, so they should be given a voice in developing the most effective safety strategies and policies.

How is it different to other drug education resources?

We know that drug education already occurs in schools, and that there are some great resources being used which look at the consequences of drug use from a health perspective, although it does vary by state. Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack is not trying to duplicate or replace those resources in any way, but to complement them. Its main difference is that it encourages young people to look beyond the health consequences, to the social impacts — on themselves, their friends and their communities — from unsafe use of alcohol and other drugs, whether they’re obtained illegally, by prescription or over-the-counter. The pack also encourages young people to contribute to the public debate about drug use and drug policies, and gives them an opportunity to respond through creative expression.

Does it condone drug use, and isn’t it safer to promote abstinence?

Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack does not condone drug use, and does not promote any particular policy response towards drugs. What it does do is encourage open and critical debate among young people, listens to their views and perspectives, and empowers them to be part of conversations that are happening at a national and international level on this topic. National and international evidence shows taking a ‘just say no’ approach to drugs has been grossly ineffective, with the number of Australians killed, hospitalised or criminalised continuing to rise. We have to take a smarter, non-judgemental approach that addresses the realities faced by young people and engages them instead of alienating them.

Why is youth engagement in drug policy so important?

Young people are often disproportionately affected by laws and policies regarding drugs and alcohol, yet are often excluded from conversations around their development. Evidence shows we need to encourage drug policies that reflect an unpleasant reality: that most young people, at some point, will be exposed to these issues either individually, in their families, or amongst their peers. So they have important insights, and a valuable role to play in effective policy development. If we don’t listen to young Australians, we risk responding in a way that is ineffective and may actually cause more harm than good.

Does this have anything to do with safe injecting sites or pill testing at festivals?

Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack does not promote any particular policy response towards drugs. It has been developed over a number of years, and has nothing to do with any specific issues that are in the spotlight from time to time. It simply asks young people questions, which are designed to get them thinking about the broader context in which drug and alcohol issues occur in their communities.

Is it just for use in Personal Development and Health classes?

No. The Australian Council for Health and Physical Education and Recreation in South Australia assisted in mapping the pack to the Australian Curriculum. However it is versatile and can be adapted to suit the needs of different subjects and schools. For example, it has been incorporated into a Year 11 Global Politics curriculum at a school in Melbourne. Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack has been designed for teachers to use in secondary schools, but it can be easily modified to suit upper primary students, community groups and at-risk youth attending counselling

Where can I find further information?

You’ll find further information on the Australia21 website at australia21.org.au – just click on the Smarter About Drugsmenu for more detail about the background to the strategy, the conversation pack, the Creative Responses and more information for parents. If you have further questions, please email us at office@australia21.org.au.

How do I get the Smarter About Drugs teaching resources?

Smarter About Drugs: A Conversation Pack is available to download from the Australia21 Resources page. There is a small charge, to help us cover the cost of further developing and promoting the Smarter About Drugs strategy. A set of additional teaching material to use or adapt for other subjects, Smarter About Drugs: Global Politics, is also available to download from the Resources page, FREE of charge.


You can also watch our videos to find out more: