“Fighting Teen Addiction” is a new club setup by students in the U.S. who are concerned about teenage drug addiction and abuse. But will they get enough support to change drug addiction education across the country?
High school students in the U.S. are speaking up about drug addiction and joining together to fight teenage drug abuse. It started with one teen proposing a new club at her Tennessee high school called “Fighting Teen Addiction.” Within one day she had gained the support of over 100 students making it the largest club at the school. Through social media, students in other schools have expressed interest in starting similar clubs to combat teen addiction through education and support. Her father, Judge Todd Ross, is supporting the club and looking to help expand its reach into the wider community and other school districts.
The club’s immediate popularity signals that teens know substance abuse and drug addiction is a problem amongst their peers and want to do something about it. As far as Ross can tell there is currently nothing in the schools about addiction and kids are looking for an outlet, as well as a way to help combat the addiction epidemic across the country.
The new ‘Fighting Teen Addiction’ club aims not only to provide information, but also host events and guest speakers from various treatment centres. Ross would also like to see the club become a means of support for teens with drug addiction or alcoholism present in their homes by getting guidance counsellors involved, doing peer support training, and bringing the issue to light so that students can have someone to talk to without feeling ashamed. This type of support would hopefully help prevent future cases of addiction in high-risk teens.
Peer led interventions such as starting clubs aimed at fighting addiction could be one way to tackle education about drug addiction in America. Every year nearly 44,000 people die from a drug overdose, and drug overdose is now the leading cause of injury-related deaths in America. Education is frequently mentioned as one of the main strategies to prevent these deaths, but how is America doing on this front?
Drug Addiction Education in America
Until recently, the most significant approach to education about drug addiction within schools was the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) programme that began in Los Angeles in 1983. The programme was aimed at 11-14 year olds under the logic that it was best to educate children early while they were still pliable and before they started experimenting with drugs.
Uniformed police would go around to schools and tell students about the dangers of illicit substances. While teachers liked the programme, mainly because they were uncomfortable talking about drug addiction themselves, parents liked it because they thought their children would listen to police officers. As it turns out, the programme did not work. Several academic studies have now shown that the DARE programme was ineffective at best, and actually counterproductive at worst.
Perceived harm and rate of drug use are negatively correlated, and trying to scare young kids out of taking drugs they may never have heard of, without offering further education or support, was not an effective strategy.
Now, America is taking a look at what does work. When methamphetamine made an epidemic comeback in the late 1990’s, states initiated an advertising campaign against the drug’s use. However, instead of focusing on how addictive the drug is or the long-term health effects like in the past, the new campaign pointed out that meth users often had rotten teeth. And it seems to have worked, as meth use has significantly declined in the past five years.
Perhaps we can also learn about preventing illicit drug use from anti-smoking campaigns. Anti-tobacco campaigns realised that preaching about the long-term negative effects of smoking to teenagers did not work. The long-term is too far off for them. However, what did work were ads suggesting second hand smoke was harmful to babies, and ads promoting non-smokers as being more popular than smokers.
A New Wave of Drug Addiction Education
When it comes to education about drug addiction in schools, it is now more focused on alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana prevention rather than hard drugs, because these three drugs are the most common and contribute the most harm to society. Other programmes specific to prescription drug education are also popping up.
A remodelled version of the DARE programme now provides a more hands on approach that uses role-playing to help children gain confidence to resist and manage all types of pressures. Drug use is no longer addressed as an isolated problem, as it co-occurs among many problems that teens may face.
A programme Narcotics Overdose Prevention Education (NOPE) has also begun to enter schools in light of the prescription drug addiction and overdose epidemic. The programme utilises information from scientific studies and interactive computer programmes to focus on the science of drug addiction, rather than solely using scare tactics. It also teaches students how to recognise a drug overdose and respond.
However, some say that the whole system of education about drug addiction within schools is currently suffering. Criticism about the ineffectiveness of DARE, a shortage in funding, and the fact that academic testing has taken such weight within schools have all contributed to anti-drug campaigns falling off the priority list.
What Needs to be Done?
Most experts agree that education is a pillar when it comes to drug addiction and overdose prevention. However, educating teenagers about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse has never proven to be an easy task. Continued research into what does work, and developing effective programmes based off this is a necessary step.
De-stigmatising drug addiction will also help open up discussions about the problem. Hopefully more teens will realise they can start taking matters into their own hands as the students in Tennessee have. If teens speak out about the need for more support and information when it comes to drug use and addiction, hopefully school districts and community organisations will step up and provide better services.
Prevention starts at home and parents also have a place in setting expectations surrounding drug and alcohol use. Talking to kids and teens about drug use is not easy, but it is necessary and one of the best ways to help prevent future drug addiction.