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Schools have started using a ground-breaking drug and alcohol teaching resource which engages students in a way that has never been done before in Australia.

Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack has been designed by Australia21, YoungA21 and the Australian Lions Drug Awareness Foundation (ALDAF) to give young people the tools for informed discussion and evidence-based analysis of drug policies.

The conversation pack encourages students to examine the effectiveness of current state, national and international approaches to managing the harms associated with the use of illicit drugs and the misuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. In guided conversations, they can explore the realities faced by young people, police and politicians in a society where preventable drug deaths, hospitalisations and criminal activity continue despite multi-million dollar health and law enforcement budgets.

Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack and a video demonstrating its use in the classroom have been officially 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.

“We need to change the way we talk about drugs and alcohol in Australia and address the issues we face in both a scientific and a humane way,” said A/Prof Bonomo.

“Analysing the evidence and policy in this area is a great way for young people to learn about the importance of informed decision making,” she said.

Click to view a brief introduction to Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack (or see the full video on YouTube).

Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack does not condone drug-taking, but it recognises that open, non-judgemental discussion can be a powerful tool in fighting substance abuse. The conversation pack is designed to:

  • facilitate critical thinking about drug and alcohol use among young Australians;

  • empower young people to take ownership of harm reduction strategies; and

  • give young people a voice in policy development and decisions, which often have the greatest impact on their age group.

“It’s been developed by young people, for young people,” said YoungA21 Chair, Rebecca Bunn, who helped lead the development process.

The initial idea came out of a Smarter About Drugs youth workshop hosted by Australia21 and the Ted Noffs Foundation in 2014. Then Australia21 was invited to work with teachers at Cowandilla Primary School in South Australia, piloting a drug and alcohol education program with its Year 7 and 8 students in 2016 – a short video documenting the success of that initiative is also available to view.

Australia21 and ALDAF went on to develop Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack for a wider age group, including secondary students through to senior levels and young adults outside of schools.

The resource has been extensively researched, rigorously vetted by teachers and academics and mapped to the curriculum with the assistance of the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER).

Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack was trialled at Star of the Sea College in Melbourne in August 2017, where Senior VCE Global Politics & Legal Studies teacher Peter Farrar integrated it into a Global Politics unit focusing on the response of governments to the use of illicit drugs.

“I started Smarter About Drugs with my Year 11 class, who were exhausted after examinations and a long second term. The conversations were extraordinary, with some students describing the ‘functional drug addiction’ of people they knew very well. Their energy and interest showed the conversation pack was a great success,” said Mr Farrar.

Carl von Stein, Deputy Chair of the Australian Lions Drug Awareness Foundation, also praised the approach taken with the conversation pack.

“This encourages critical thinking around policies, laws and behaviours which help young people to keep themselves, their friends and their communities safe. Stronger communities built on compassion and understanding are one of the best protective gifts we can nurture for our young citizens” said Mr von Stein.

Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack has now been released to schools that were on a priority waiting list. It is also available online, for use by upper primary and secondary teachers, as well as drug and alcohol counsellors, community groups and other organisations supporting at-risk youth across Australia.

The VCE Global Politics course outline and worksheets developed by Peter Farrar are also available for use or adaptation.

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