The number of teenagers and young adults being arrested or hospitalised due to drug use has continued to rise, despite the fact that schools have been teaching students about the dangers of drugs for years. Clearly, it’s time for a new teaching strategy that better engages and empowers young Australians and their friends to make safer choices for themselves and their communities.
So Australia21 and its youth advisory committee, YoungA21, have teamed up with the Australian Lions Drug Awareness Foundation (ALDAF) to help schools, counsellors and community organisations tackle drug issues more holistically. The result is Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack. This groundbreaking teaching resource reflects the reality that the causes and effects of drug use and abuse are complex and far-reaching, going way beyond the usual curriculum confines of Personal Development and Health classes.
Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack is unique in the way it encourages informed decision-making:
It allows young people to examine the evidence about illegal, prescription and over-the-counter drugs (including alcohol), without users being judged or stigmatised.
It gives social context to the complex issue of drug use, arming young people with useful knowledge that goes beyond health concerns.
It recognises that young people are capable of contributing to critical discussions about the effectiveness of drug strategies and policies.
It provides young people with a platform to share suggestions for improving drug strategies and policies.
It gives teachers a means of applying drug safety messages across the school curriculum.
The conversation pack was launched by Associate Professor Yvonne Bonomo, a physician in Adolescent Medicine and Director of the Department of Addiction Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne.
Yvonne spoke of her vision of an Australia free of drug problems.
“To get to that vision, we need to change the way we talk about drugs and alcohol. Let’s talk about ways we can best empower and protect everyone. Keep everyone safe. Alleviate that isolation and that sense of worthlessness that people tell me they feel when they’re caught in the grips of addiction. Evidence and policies based on evidence will get us to that vision,” she said.
“This education package enables a really informed discussion with bright young minds.
“So it’s a great initiative and this is a step towards that vision of Australia without significant drug issues. Not just a wealthy country, but a healthy one as well. Without stigma, without judgement, just dealing with what we have to deal with.”
Adding depth and detail to student drug responses
Smarter About Drugs: A Conversation Pack has been extensively researched, rigorously vetted by teachers and academics and mapped to the school curriculum with the assistance of the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER).
But it has to be acknowledged that trying out a fresh approach takes vision and leadership.
The first school to adopt this new teaching resource, Star of the Sea College in Melbourne, considered very carefully before agreeing it was time for a more pragmatic, wide-ranging discussion of drug issues among its students. Like Australia21 and ALDAF, the school does not condone the use of illicit substances, but recognises that harm minimisation must be the focus of drug education. Abstinence messages without acknowledgement of the reality that some people will take risks against all advice have proven unsuccessful over many years, in Australia and other countries, and there is very good international evidence showing programs that engage young people openly and honestly are more effective at minimising harmful outcomes from drugs.
Star of the Sea College has now demonstrated the versatility of Smarter About Drugs: A Conversation Pack, incorporating it into VCE Global Politics classes.
Senior VCE Global Politics & Legal Studies teacher, Peter Farrar, says the results have been impressive.
“The VCE Global Politics unit includes a study of globalisation. I decided to focus on drugs for this topic, examining Australia’s approach in comparison to China, Colombia and The Philippines.
“The unit was very successful because I also used Smarter About Drugs: A Conversation Pack to encourage my students to think about the human element of addiction to drugs including alcohol, and to work individually and in groups to devise policy ideas. This added such depth and detail to what is normally quite an academic study, which can be removed from the students’ own experiences,” he said.
The student responses speak for themselves:
In class time, the questions, resources, articles and worksheets were great to analyse sources and then apply them to regular conversations (especially at home and amongst friends). Tess
I thought Smarter About Drugs was extremely important and an eye opening experience for me. The conversations helped us target problems that are very complex and important in society today. Before learning about these issues, I had a very closed minded view on drug addicts but learnt that it was more of a health-related issue than a legal one. Georgia
I found it interesting to hear my classmates’ perspectives on an issue that will likely affect us either directly or someone close to us later in life. Sofia
During the time our class has been using the ‘Smarter About Drugs pack’ I have been exposed to the severe consequences and reactions drugs have on our society. This would not have been covered in the normal VCE Global Politics curriculum. It gave me a greater understanding of the drug epidemic taking place around the globe and possible solutions on how to ensure that less people are affected. I feel as though it was a very worthwhile experience and I encourage it to be carried on here at my school. Lily
Australia21 were really great to work with, and I feel inspired to extend my knowledge of this issue due to their passion in raising awareness of it. I thought I had an understanding of drugs before this but, looking back, I had no idea. I learnt so much about both the anatomy of an addiction and how it’s formed and the actual logistics of Victoria’s drug policy. I also now have an understanding of an issue that occurs globally Elli
I thoroughly enjoyed the launch, hearing specialists in the field of drugs including alcohol. The speeches from David and Yvonne about everyday people caught up in drugs made me realise how it can happen to anyone. It also made me understand that addiction is not a choice and that it is not something drug users can always stop by choice. Bethany
It was really important to learn about the dangers surrounding drugs and the impacts it can have, mentally and physically. Alexandrea
From the process I learnt about how drugs affect society. I also learnt about drug policies in other countries, and how they are effective/ineffective. I now know more about not only the effect of drugs on the individual, but how it affects their family/society. We also looked in depth at how drugs are portrayed in the media and different views on drug policy. We discussed ways in which the drug crisis can be addressed. Lili
Share you own story
Does your school have a copy of Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack yet? You can click here to download it.
The support materials Peter Farrar developed for his Drugs Unit in VCE Global Politics are now available free online, as examples of how to integrate the conversation pack into classes across the school curriculum. Teachers can use them in their current form or adapt them to suit their own subjects and the needs of their students.
Click here to download the FREE Smarter About Drugs: Global Politics additional teaching set, which includes:
Australia21 will be showcasing the Creative Responses submitted by students, where teachers decide to take up that option offered in the conversation pack. We’ll also be cataloguing feedback from teachers around Australia and sharing their stories and suggestions about using the resource.
There’s a small fee for Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack — the proceeds are going back into promoting and improving the Smarter About Drugs initiative.
If you’d like to share a story or suggestion about using the conversation pack, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also request an alert when more Smarter About Drugs support materials become available:
just write ‘send alert’ in your email subject line.
Watch the videos below to find out more aboutSmarter About Drugs: A conversation packand see how the teaching resource is used in the classroom.