Children need more effective education around drugs - expert
More consistent and realistic education programmes for young people are needed to tackle dangerous drug use, according to a leading addiction expert within the health service.
David Lane, the HSE's head of addiction services in Cork and Kerry, said some drug and alcohol awareness programmes aimed at young adults often come across as "box ticking exercises". He said more immersive programmes need to be embraced by schools and teachers.
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It comes as a young woman, whose brother died of a drugs overdose three years ago, warned Ireland is losing the battle against illegal drugs. Nicole Ryan's brother Alex (18) died after taking a synthetic drug at a party in 2016.
Mr Lane said some schools are guilty of running ineffective drug awareness programmes. He called for a more widespread and consistent approach to SPHE (Social, Personal and Health Education), instead of one-off lectures and presentations to tackle the issue.
"The whole thing around bringing someone who is in recovery into a classroom and talking to them about their life story, that on its own is completely ineffective. We know that from research," Mr Lane told the Sunday Independent.
"SPHE and the full implementation of those types of programmes in schools has a better evidential base than a school for instance ticking a box and inviting someone in to talk about drugs.
"That's not how you run an effective programme. If you want to run effective programmes around schools, which will have the biggest reach in terms of catching a significant amount of younger people, then what you have to do is run SPHE in full for it to have its best effect in terms of having good outcomes for people who are at risk of getting into difficulties."
Mr Lane said it is unrealistic to expect people to abstain from drugs, but said awareness programmes are still vital to prevent abuse and long-lasting negative effects.
"There is a reality that people are going to use. There is a reality that people are going to experiment, that there is going to be tragedy and family breakdown and other mental health problems. What we need to focus on is how we can limit the damage being done."
Nicole Ryan agrees that educators need to look beyond encouraging abstinence. She has campaigned for greater drug awareness since her brother's death.
"We have lost the battle of abstinence - there are so many misconceptions about drugs with young people. They tend to believe what they read online or hear from their friends. But they are amazed when they hear directly from people like me about the cost to families of drug use and what drugs can do to you," Ms Ryan said.
"When I go to schools I demonstrate to them about dosage.
"It is astounding how little it can take to kill you."