Recent conversations with several people about how to best approach the current situation around drug use, often professionals in their fields, has given me food for thought.
No one disputes that young people need to be educated in the area of Drug use however there's two very different camps - Harm Minimisation v's Harm Prevention. The main message as I understand for the former is "Educate kids so that if and when they chose to take drugs they know how to do so safely and minimise the harm" and the latter "Educate kids so they can chose not to take drugs and equip them how to say No".
Seems similar, except in my opinion the current Harm Minimisation message appears to have given up and accepted that Drug use is going to happen. Should we really be accepting that? Could we fight a little harder for our kids and give them a choice to say "No Thanks" and equip them with the resilience to do so? Wouldn't it be better to give them the real option to chose not to enter the Drug scene, that perhaps that's the better path to take, the smarter course for their well-being, health and future?
I've literally been shot down in a board room over Teen Challenge's approach for Prevention through the abstinence approach "saying No" message in that it goes against Policies. That Harm Minimisation is the path that has been adopted and Prevention has no place due to policies.
Interesting when you view the statement made by the 2010 National Drug strategy as it states Harm Minimisation - "Involves a range of approaches to prevent and reduce drug-related harm including: early intervention; specialist treatment; supply control; safer drug use; and abstinence."
There are many pillars to Harm Minimisation as you can read by it's definition. Three are in direct correlation to Harm Prevention - early intervention; prevention and abstinence. So why is it unpopular or scary ground to walk on? Maybe it's socially unpopular? Does it lead to discriminating behaviours towards those that do take drugs? Maybe it impedes on peoples rights to choose?
I've recently learned, through a third party, of one facilitator's attempt, at Harm Minimisation in their delivery, they took it to the next level. The kids liked him and when I heard what his message was I kind of wasn't surprised, he would have come across really cool, completely looking out for their best interests. He told them that they shouldn't smoke Tobacco but should smoke Marijuana instead as it doesn't cause cancer like Tobacco does! Then when describing what different drugs were out there then he recommended which drug they should choose over another due to its different or perceived lesser side effects!
A young person we have spoken to in prison informed me one day, that when they get out they were going to switch to Heroine, because they'd been told by a professional that it was no where near as addictive and harmful to them as ICE was.
Each time my mouth dropped open and I was catching flies, shocked. Dealing front line with the real tragedy of drug addiction it is a very dangerous message. Every person we help, that is reaching out, wishes they'd never started, if they knew what their life was going to turn out to be, they would have turned the other way.
Don't get me wrong I understand that Drugs are often just a mask - nearly everyone that starts on drugs is self-medicating their personal level of pain. It's this that we should talk to kids about. That they are not alone, that their loneliness, the abuse they've received, their internal self-image and the multitude of other challenges they feel out of control of can be managed in other ways. There really is help for them. To recognise this in other people and support them for help.
I don't for one minute think badly about someone that has an addiction. I don't despise them nor shun them. They need help and they are a beautiful person with a life they were born to live right there inside - they've just buried that person deep, deep down under so much more hurt and pain. They deserve the love and opportunity needed to bring that person back to the light.
So back to our young people why don't we give them the real choice to understand the facts about the drugs, the real side effects, the real possibilities of addiction from those that have been there? Arm them with the causation issues that can lead to drug and alcohol use and pathways to take rather than self-medication. Equip them with the tools, the resilience, the strategies to choose say No Thanks - I choose life and an alternate future.
In a letter from a mum of a young man that is currently in a Teen Challenge program she wrote on this topic " As I look back over the past 10 years and think what could have been done differently there is one big thing that comes to mind. I wish my son had the opportunity to participate in a Drug Prevention program when he was in high school - before it all begun. I believe that if he had the opportunity to listen to someone who had been in the place he was in before he was engulfed and surrounded by the addiction, it would have been prevented."
The other message has a real place I don't argue that. Some people you will never turn away, they will experiment. They need to know safe practises to minimise effects on their health. But let's not give up on the young people that would turn away if they had real life facts and spoke with someone that had really been in the depths of addiction. Let's give them the tools to "Never Even Once" touch drugs or alcohol.
In November, Teen Challenge Tasmania, will be bringing the "Not Even Once" Prevention message to many Northern Tassie High School students and give them that option. I truly thank the Principals allowing their kids the chance to hear the facts, bust the myths, look at the reasons behind drug taking and let them know they do have a choice to say "No Thanks" and be totally cool with that and accept that decision from someone else. They will hear from Teen Challenge graduates that have been in the depths of addiction and fought back to a new life - hear their stories, their realities - peer teaching peer, truly powerful.
Teen Challenge Tasmania will also be conducting evening Seminars for parents, teachers and community members. The same message, however we go a little deeper and explain some of the signs to look for, real strategies they can take to help their loved ones should they enter that path.
We will continue this into next year and work closely with more focussed groups of students in participating schools to go deeper still and build resiliency within our young people and help them become real positive change agents within our communities and their families. Turn the tide on this epidemic through their very own initiatives.
Teen Challenge Tasmania are not charging High Schools for the projects we want to invest in our young people we truly believe in their right to a future they were born to live and that's not one of drug use and addiction. We are heavily fundraising now and seeking support from communities, so have a look at our myCause project and see if you can help make a difference.
If you want further information on the evenings for parents, teachers and community members then fill in the form below and we'll keep you posted.