Last time we talked about a new attitude to take when dealing with young people’s drug use. But in practical terms, how should people charged with guiding and caring for youngsters put this attitude to work?

In order to implement an effective drug-education practice, Dr. Rosenbaum stresses, four key actions must be taken. First, adults should use science to inform young people about drug use. Many adults have forgotten what it was like to be young; their impulse is to shield kids from the realities of drug use. They routinely underestimate kids’ ability to analyze data, evaluate facts, and make responsible decisions based upon empirical facts them.

It is not difficult to include scientific evidence about drugs into traditional educational and mentoring settings. Such information that may be incorporated includes the psychological and physical effects of drug use, the chemical makeup and effects of drugs, social ramifications of use and abuse, and historical and political frameworks. This sort of information may be featured in a variety of school curricula and may be tailored to be culturally appropriate as easily as other material might be.

Secondly, Dr. Rosenbaum states, the importance of moderation should be stressed. Though drug experimentation is quite common and all manner of drug use pervades society, drug abuse should be resisted. “[Young people] should know how to recognize irresponsible behavior when it comes to place, time, dose levels and frequency of use.” It is clear that the scientific evidence in a drug education program can provide young people with the knowledge they need to make informed choices for themselves. Such consideration of moderate drug use should also be made, she writes, based upon information about the specific health consequences of excessive use. Such consequences do not necessarily arise from experimentation with drugs, but from repeated, excessive and reckless use of drugs in circumstances requiring full cooperation, stamina, or focus.

Third, drug policies must address the potential negative consequences of drug abuse for young people; these negative consequences involve situations that might otherwise be rewarding, such as academics and sports. Within this part of informational caretaking, authority figures should also discuss situations in which mere drug use, and not abuse, may bring unwanted results. Dr. Rosenbaum uses the rules and laws that govern drug use in various places as examples. “They need to know that if they are caught in possession of alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs, they will find themselves at the mercy of the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” In schools, it may be the case that “penalties for violating the rules present risks that often extend well beyond the health risks of drug use itself: expulsion from school, a criminal record, and social stigma – all of which make it harder to find employment in the future.” As Dr. Rosenbaum has maintained throughout her booklet, this type of information should be used in much the same way that accurate scientific information is to be used: to let young people know the facts that will allow them to make appropriate, informed choices—not to frighten them.

The fourth parameter listed is the overarching message of the entire booklet: to place safety first. It must be recognized that the concept of safety should be the cornerstone, indeed the purpose, of a good drug education policy, for it is the safety of vulnerable individuals that drug education is designed to protect. Dr. Rosenbaum uses alcohol as a simple example of a drug around which very straightforward safety measures can be taken. The use of a designated driver and the reservation of safe spaces to drink are two steps that may be taken to aid the actual safety of young people drinking, not merely to aid the enforcement of laws and rules.

Some may argue that such safety measures serve only to enable young people’s use. But the message of safety within realistic situations remains. Dr. Rosenbaum writes, “Will teens stop drinking as a response to crackdowns? Probably not. Too many say they will just move the party to the street, the local park, the beach or some other place where adults are not present. And they’ll drive to get there.”

The booklet outlined here provides an extremely useful model to help authorities such as parents, teachers and spiritual mentors to enact a policy of drug guidelines that works within the world in which young people live. Though it may be uncomfortable for older people to imagine drug use by those in their charge, Dr. Rosenbaum’s brochure promotes bravery in the face of those ideas. As our history has shown time and time again, drugs remain a fact of life. Young people’s experimentation with drugs will not stop because of the threat of harsher punishment or stricter penalties.

Given this unavoidable truth, it is far better to work toward the safety of young people using drugs than to attempt to eradicate drug use. Any program designed to work within a fantasized environment is bound to be unsuccessful. Far better is Dr. Rosenbaum’s guide, firmly geared toward what young people face when making personal choices about drugs.

If you, like many, support a more effective attitude toward drug education, talk to those you wish to help; tell them the whole truth; ask them for their own insights; listen to their experiences without judgment. And most importantly, when designing a class or modeling realistic behavior or simply having a talk with young people, interact with them on their own turf–meet them where they are.

– By Maggie Maurer,
SPW Policy Intern