Teen Drug Abuse: Peer Education Training Challenges Misconceptions

Posted at 20:07pm on 30th March 2010

INTRODUCTION TO GUEST BLOG BY LUCY CRIPPS

My novel, A Painful Post Mortem, has been selling now for sometime, and has raised a substantial sum of money for the two charities I chose to support with the proceeds. This month, in addition to the print edition, I decided to make it available as an e-book. Cutting out shipping by making it downloadable helps not only the economy, but also goes some way to addressing green issues.
However, my primary goal in writing this book was to acquaint my readers with the realities of parenting a child who begins a life of drug abuse believing that they have control, and who is rapidly sucked into a cycle of self-destruction and self-hatred. Based on my own experience, I know all too well that the sense of helplessness, grief and loss suffered by a mother in this situation is immense. So my secondary goal was to bring to my readers as much information as possible about the resources that are available.
To that end, I’m delighted to introduce you to Lucy Cripps, who has been kind enough to write the following guest-blog about her experience as a teacher who has been involved in peer education training in respect of teen drug abuse.

DRUG AWARENESS: Fact or Fiction?

Schools are rife with rumour, myth and say-sos. For the year 7 and 8s it is nearly impossible to figure out what is fact and what is scare-mongering fiction. Hooked on feeling more important, older students pass down ‘wise’ half-facts, jumbled knowledge and once-removed experiences that confuse the younger children.

DRUG AWARENESS RESOURSES: Introducing HYPE

HYPE - ‘Helping Young People through Peer Education’ - is one of a number of drug awareness courses. As a new secondary school teacher in Reading one of my first extra-curricular responsibilities was to take this on as part of the school’s drugs education programme. Run by In-volve it was then partnered by Thames Valley Police.

The aims of the programme were:

  • To provide knowledge to enable students to make an informed choice;
  • To change attitudes about drugs;
  • To provide skills to stay both safe and ‘cool’.

USING PEER COUNSELLING TO INFORM CHOICE

Several schools sent small groups of year 11 students on HYPE’s residential peer- education training scheme to gain the skills to talk with younger students about drugs. With an incredible wealth of drug awareness and presentation skills to peer-lead lessons the newly-trained peer-counsellors delivered to children lower down the school. This allowed the younger students the chance to ask questions they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking a teacher, and to gain unbiased, factual information that would allow them to make sensible, informed choices – hopefully the right choices – when they came up against teenage drug abuse.

As the co-ordinating teacher, I went through the same training and experiences as the kids. The group I worked with was made up of high-achieving, intelligent students who were very anti-drugs. In honesty, their maturity at sixteen far surpassed mine at twenty-five.

MAKING INTELLIGENT CHOICES: THE FIRST TRIP

The first part of the training was an information-rammed residential weekend on which peer-counsellors supported drug education experts as they covered the facts and fiction of how each of the most ‘popular’ drugs affects users.

Cleverly, in their introduction, the course leaders glorified the effects and made many of the drugs sound rather appealing. We listened to pleasurable experiences of heroin highs, laughed at silly stories about cannabis users, and learnt why people chose to take drugs in the first place. We chuckled as we tried to learn how to roll a ‘spliff’ and to fold a ‘wrap’ for cocaine.

Highs...

During our break we talked about how easy it must be to fall into that world based on tantalising hearsay. And let’s face it, that IS the information most kids will hear on the grapevine, isn’t it?! How great you feel taking the drug: heroin is easier to get than alcohol and promises users a euphoric rush followed by a relaxed high; cannabis is known as ‘a safe drug’ – safer than alcohol - with many people claiming it should be made legal. Like alcohol, cannabis removes inhibitions and makes you feel happy.

... and Lows

On our return to the training room, doom and gloom came in the guise of the cold, hard facts. Medical evidence, photos and real-life experiences put any thought out of our heads of running off ‘to score’ following the rose-tainted ideas we’d been sent to our break with.

On that first day we learned, in incredible detail, about every major drug used on the streets, hearing about the good bits and the bad bits. Some of it was presented through slideshows – pictures of heroin addicts, for instance, or cannabis users - some through lectures, stories and images, and some through group-work, reading and poster making. Much of the discussion-based work hung on a role-play story following a quasi real-life boy called ‘Billy’.

Tragedy

Billy made a range of bad decisions, all of which saw his life spiral out of control and end tragically. His decision-making started harmlessly enough when he chose to share a joint with a friend, but each of his decisions had greater implications for his friends and family. We never found out if Billy was in fact a real person, but he was presented so believably that his actual existence was irrelevant. (Read real-life drug-users stories here. Or Mel’s book, A Painful Post Mortem, which is based on a true story.)

In preparation for their lessons, each group had the afternoon to create its own version of ‘Billy’. Aside from knowing their roles, the story and prompts, they also needed to weave in a range of pauses in the action in which to ask questions that would encourage the audience to explore the ramifications of Billy’s choices.

We turned in at about midnight!

Moving on to Harder Stuff: teenage drug abuse

Exhausted, nervous and stuffed full of information about cannabis smoking, heroin use, and the like we started the mission of day two: to help the peer counsellors become teachers. With four ‘real’ teachers present it was up to us to introduce classroom control, management and how to run a discussion on a very sensitive subject with pre-teens, so they could confidently deal with a class of thirty twelve-year-olds, on their own.

For anyone this would have been daunting, but armed with so much knowledge – and a white folder brimming with back-up information, notes and pamphlets – they created a lesson. ‘My’ group chose to focus on cannabis and heroin, because at the time (in 2000) those were the drugs creating the most problems on Reading’s streets. While cannabis is traditionally the ‘starter’ drug for teens, heroin was also cheap, easy to get hold-of, and younger teens getting hooked on it was on the rise.

Euphoric

Incorporating their ‘Billy’ role-play into the lesson they had created, each group stepped up to present that evening. As the course leaders had done, each started by asking what everyone knew about the drug: what street names the drug had; how the drug made the user feel; what bad things happened from taking the drug. They encouraged sensible answers and admirably dealt with the ‘planted class pest’. Each ‘Billy’ was captivatingly different and allowed the audience to safely explore Billy’s decisions. I was flabbergasted by their competence - and enormously proud!

But it wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot!

DRUG KNOWLEDGE: Getting Down and Dirty

A few weeks after the information weekend, we went on a week’s residential together; this time we were taken to the streets and built up a resource of our own experiences and drug knowledge. We talked to users, to former addicts, to carers; we visited a half-way house, a holistic recovery centre (HIAH in Birmingham) where we had acupuncture in our ears and a young addicts’ hostel.

Where the weekend had been high-octane and fast-paced, the week residential allowed us to come to grips with the information we had acquired, it put faces to names, as it were, and helped us to really understand what the drugs’ world meant; how all encompassing and destructive it is to those in it. We listened to a man, who had been a successful businessman in the City, tempted and destroyed by drugs. That he was still using, despite his awareness of how appalling his choice was really, brought the ‘addiction’ card home for many of us.

A Sad Ending

Sadly, due to re-channelling of funds, HYPE, is now in steady decline, but a decade on and so much that I learnt is still very clear in my mind. While I may no longer be fountain of knowledge about drugs – nor keep a dummy ‘spliff’ in my desk drawer- I will never forget the experiences and understanding I had, and the respect and admiration I have for the groups of sixth formers who intelligently helped their peers make the right choices.

© Lucy Cripps 2010: All Rights Reserved

Owner at www.English-Pro.eu; Freelance digital proofreader, copy-editor and writer http://www.english-pro.eu/en/

If anyone knows of other drug awareness courses, do let me know. With mephedrone now freely available, with devastating results, peer education training – whereby youngsters are informed and empowered to help eliminate teenage drug abuse – has, surely, to be the way forward.

TO BUY A PRINT COPY OR DOWNLOAD THE E-BOOK VERSION OF A PAINFUL POST MORTEM, AND SUPPORT TWO WORTHY CHARITIES BENEFITING CHILDREN, SEE MY BOOKS PAGE.

Your Comments:

31st March 2010
at 3:20am

Mel,



Thank you so much for giving me this chance to reflect on an
experience I had so many years ago, and to revisit much of the
knowledge that seems still to be lurking in the recesses of my
brain.



It was a pure pleasure to write, and I appreciate you asking me
to do so.



I really hope some of the information in the blog is of use to
someone.



Many thanks again



Lucy

Mel
1st April 2010
at 12:53am

Thank YOU, Lucy for the time and effort you put into this, and
for your expertise. Like you I hope it will be of help to others:
to encourage them and give them hope.



It would great if readers of this piece were to leave their
comments to indicate what, if anything, they find most of use.

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