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Creating better teaching resources for secondary school drug education

illustration of someone reading a science book

Written by Hannah Dawes – Head of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education at King Edward’s School, Bath, UK

Last year, The Exchange launched a series of free resources that were designed and disseminated with the help of Drug Science. This followed a successful web series on The Science of Drugs, where I interviewed David Nutt, together with Drug Science team members Rayyan Zafar and Anya Aggarwal. The resources have since been used by schools across the UK to help inform an evidence-based discussion around substances.

I am really excited to be working with Drug Science again to create a series of three lessons on ‘The Science of Nicotine’. As a Head of PSHE, I am only too aware of the shortage of evidence-based resources when it comes to tricky subjects. Tobacco was brought to Europe from the Americas five centuries ago. It is now considered the world’s single biggest cause of preventable death, yet many schools are not equipped with evidence-based resources to teach about this drug effectively.

The current situation in many UK schools is that knowledge around the dangers of smoking cigarettes is good but that knowledge around alternative nicotine products like vapes is limited at best. Meanwhile, young people are becoming increasingly susceptible to using these products while teachers, for the most part, are not sufficiently equipped to speak confidently to students about them. The result is an overabundance of scaremongering assemblies filled with misleading anecdotes and misinformation.

The resources we are creating will use current research to provide children with the knowledge they need to make informed choices about nicotine. Drug Science’s network of experts provides an unparalleled resource for us, and their extensive experience of communicating these issues is invaluable. The collaboration between ‘The Exchange‘ and Drug Science is incredibly exciting and we hope to release these resources in early June 2023.

Please find resources co-created by The Exchange and Drug Science here.

How Drugs Work

The first thing that students will learn, is what is a 'drug' and how do you identify the most prevalent drugs in the UK from one another? In addition to this, they will study the effects of these substances on the human body and brain, looking closely at Ketamine, Cannabis and MDMA.

The final part of this lesson is all about risk, and the harms associated with taking drugs.

Harm Reduction

Secondly, after students have learnt about the risks associated with drug use, it's time to find out how to mitigate those risks. 

Lesson two is all about 'harm reduction'. Harm reduction refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim to minimise negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and drug laws.

Addiction & Recovery

Finally, students will be able to hear a first-hand account of recovery from addiction. This set focuses on the neurological and societal reasons that people become addicted to drugs.

Max shares his story whilst we shed light on some of the science behind addiction. This includes various models and theories of addiction from scientists and philosophers alike. 

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