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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
Drug education: Do shock tactics work?
Teachers in England are to be encouraged to use shock tactics in anti-drugs lessons.

Children as young as nine or ten could be shown a video about the death of heroin addict Rachel Whitear.

And schools will be urged to exclude any pupil caught dealing drugs on school premises - even if it is a first offence.

The tough stance is part of a new anti-drugs campaign being unveiled by education ministers on Tuesday.

But drugs education experts say they're worried that such hard-hitting tactics could backfire.

They also argue that drug education should concentrate on combating alcohol abuse.

Do you think shock tactics work? Is this a good way to inform young people about the dangers of drug use?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

I think that to a certain extent, yes, shock tactics do work. But I also think that another effective way of teaching children would be to have guest speakers going into schools and talking about their own personal experiences. I also feel that parents ought to be taking a more active role in education their children from as early an age as possible. I always respected my parents too much to let them down by doing silly things like taking drugs and smoking. At the end of the day, if someone wants to take drugs they will, no matter what they are told. And if they're STILL stupid enough to drink excessively, smoke or take drugs knowing the risks then let them!
Emma, UK

The intention is sound, but this will fail in practice. A young person's first experience with drugs is to see some of their peers try it and live to see them brag how harmless it appears. It is critical that authority figures not loose their credibility by suggesting that drugs always lead to horror stories. Tell the truth: drugs decrease people's health, motivation, success in school and in their careers. It also sometimes wrecks havoc with the family. Clearly, this is a far less glamorous an image than a horror story, but people know fear-mongering and exaggeration when they see it. When all else fails, consider the truth.
David, USA

Shock tactics do NOTHING but "shock"; they don't educate. This is the main difference between humans and other animals, our intellect, which allows us to be educated. We don't need or want to be shocked2 into certain behaviours; we all have the ability to asked "why"; education allows for "why" to be asked, but shock tactics do not!
Donna, U.S.

I am a 16 year old ex-addict, and I only wish I had been shown shock tactics at school early on. I wouldn't have been "emotionally scarred" through shock tactics, children aren't that soft! I should know. The fact of the matter is if a child has horrific images put in their head when they are young of what drugs do to you, they will forever be frightened of drugs (a very good thing). When I was at school and told "Cannabis is fairly harmless, although it can cause lung cancer", that encouraged me to take it! If you simply inform children about a drug you encourage them.
Anon, Bradford, UK

People still don't think it will actually happen to them.

Simon Moore, UK
No "shock tactics" do not work, and the reason is that however shocking the images are people still don't think it will actually happen to them. It is exactly the same as using shock tactics to put people off breaking speed limits. Human nature means that peoples' response is "oh yeah that's terrible, but if I tried that I would be OK." The only way to stop people becoming addicted to drugs is to advise and educate, not patronise and lie. The only problem with that is that truth very rarely fits with society's real aims.
Simon Moore, UK

As a teacher, I have to teach young children about the dangers of drugs and the availability of them. Shock tactics work to an extent, but you can only do so much. At the end of the day children will choose their own paths in life, good or bad. I only hope that the information we provide will deter them from drug use.
Naomi, UK

Tell the a group of 15 year olds that they WILL die if they take drugs. If they don't say it out loud they will definitely be thinking it; "Liar!" Why? Because they know at least one person who takes drugs and is still alive. Just tell them the truth. It can be an enjoyable experience but at what expense to their physical and emotional well being? How will it affect their role in society? How will it change people's perception of them? How will it change their lives? These are the questions that need to be answered.
Safia, UK

The real shock should be focused on the social stigma and exclusion that invariably comes about by drug use

Graeme, UK

Having spent a number of years working with users, I lost confidence in large areas of human nature and behaviour. Shock tactics rarely work and do little more than irritate the user and aggravate the victims of this useless lifestyle. The real shock should be focused on the social stigma and exclusion that invariably comes about by drug use. Few, if any, of the high profile deaths were glamorous in any way. Were they surrounded by real friends or were they normally found in a squalid little room alone, a damp club toilet etc? Promoting the social inclusion of those not using would seem much more positive. There are a number of success stories around of former users who now do rather well for themselves, only because they stopped using.
Graeme, UK

Has anyone watched "Requiem for a Dream" directed by Darren Aronofsky? Based on the novel by Hubert Selby, Jr., it has repeatedly earned the response "Man, I'm never doing heroin!" when I view it with my classmates/younger brother and sister. An incredibly artistic story that approaches the idea of addiction rather than drug use.
Justin, USA

As far as I'm concerned, shock tactics play an important role in anti-drugs education. Since drug abuse has cast a shadow over campus life, we must take concrete action to stop the situation from going from bad to worse. Shock tactics undoubtedly provide a good method to inform young people about the dangers of drug use. The earlier they view the video, the deeper they'll keep it in mind, seeing drugs as the damaging agents. Once they're deeply nurtured and informed, they will have the courage and strength to say "no", side-stepping any peer pressure.
Yen-mu Wu, Taiwan

I don't think that the shock tactics work that well on those kids who will be daft or gullible enough take them in the first place. The only effective deterrent is derision and ridicule. This would hit them where it might really hurt - their pride. Most will not want to appear as mugs or foolish to their peer groups or elders.
Don Tagosalow, UK

Social psychology studies have proven that shock tactics alone are generally ineffective for motivating behaviour change. People need to be presented with the facts and then a workable plan of action they can take to address the problem. (This serves to reduce anxiety about how to address the problem and gives one constructive options for making changes in behaviour). I think it would be helpful as part of an advertising campaign to educate people that illegal drugs purchases support terrorism (weapons purchases), violence and corruption in a number of countries including Colombia, a country torn by civil strife and the largest producer of cocaine. The militaristic war on drugs does not seem to be very effective. Perhaps it would make mores sense to invest US monies in identifying and treating addicts and in funding anti-terrorism/anti-drug campaigns.

No - didn't work on me when I was in school and when I was at university and became curious didn't deter me then. I never robbed, stole, mugged or caused any criminal damage. Never lost a job, boyfriend, friend or family member. I gave them up because I grew up and outgrew drugs. People will try and until it is realised that the majority (99%) of people who do take cannabis or ecstasy are constructive members of society who do not cause crimes etc then there will be no real way of teaching children. Drugs have been taken since the dawn of time. Rather than sticking your heads in the sand and going "no, no, no, no, no!" Perhaps you should ponder "why?" and go from there.
Anon, UK

The fact that drugs have become an intrinsic part of youth culture and that younger and younger children are becoming involved in drug taking is undeniable. Therefore I agree with the use of shock tactics. I'm 23 and have, in the past, dabbled in soft drugs, but have always found images and footage of people shooting up heroin into collapsed veins and crack addicts anxiously looking for a fix, a good deterrent from trying anything harder. I remember working as a volunteer in a homeless shelter when I was about 17 and the first hand experience of what addicts go through put me off any drug, so maybe a liaison between schools and drug projects would be another good way to educate (probably older children) about drugs. Young people need to be exposed to this, to let them see the reality of drug taking and that it can easily reach the point where they can't control it.
Dan, UK

Let them stay children

James, UK
I think that the idea of using shock tactics on nine year old children is wrong. When I was nine years old I wasn't bombarded with films about overdosing junkies and I have never had the urge to use hard drugs. I think that if this plan is implemented, we could find our children growing up too fast. Let them stay children; don't burst their bubble until their older.
James, UK

As someone who left school some time ago and saw many of my friends descend into drugs, education overall has failed. Shock tactics work to deter children from the likes of ecstasy and heroin, but attempts to curb LSD and cannabis use have failed miserably. From my experience, it seems that peer pressure and the need to fit in overrides just about any message from the authorities who are seen as out of touch and 'uncool'.
Andy, Nottingham, UK

Shock tactics do not work - plain and simple. Throughout my school career I was told about how ecstasy would make me throw myself off a building, and if I ever took LSD it would make me go insane. These facts never stopped me or any of my peers from experimenting with drugs. The best the Government can do is to educate youths about how drugs can be used in the safest possible way.
Rob, England

Stop insulting our intelligence. I am 16 and about to take my GCSE exams. Neither I nor my fellow peers will fall for shock tactics. We all read the papers and saw the death of the heroin addict and were shocked, but for those people intent on using drugs, one picture of one addict will not work to them.
Rebecca Chambers, England

Part of my job is drug education for teenagers and my experience is that shock tactics have no effect. Teenagers (if not all people) deeply resent being told/bullied into something. They need to know the facts and then make their own decision. People usually object to this as it means telling them that smoking cannabis probably won't kill them.
David, Wales

Education should be the impartial representation of facts

Seb Potter, UK
How about some actual education on drugs and their effects, instead of government-mandated propaganda? I agree totally with the use of shock tactics to educate children about the harmful effects of drugs like heroin and crack. However, this shouldn't be a blanket policy. There are some inescapable facts that must also be taught, such as the short and long term effects to health of other drugs, such as cannabis and ecstasy. For instance, how many people are aware that ecstasy kills less people in the UK each year than paracetomol? Of course, fact-based education (rather than opinionated preaching) can only be based on scientific study, a policy that would be in the humanitarian interests of society as whole. Education cannot be the imposition of single view-point. Education should be the impartial representation of facts, allowing children to form their own judgement and opinion. Maybe one day we'll have impartial reporting on drugs too.
Seb Potter, UK

Do pictures of car accidents stop people getting into cars? No. And statistically there's more chance dying as a result of getting into cars as there is getting into drugs. It should be the social problems of drugs that are put forward. Children are going to be more worried about being a criminal living in squalor.
David Hope, England

Soft Drugs have become an accepted recreational activity within youth culture, just as alcohol is accepted in mainstream society. People who advocate 'shock' tactics at school should give it some real thought. From the young persons perspective they can choose to believe the authority figure (teacher) in front of them delivering a package devised by civil servants, or they can choose to believe their friends and their own experiences of drugs - which for the vast majority of people are no more detrimental that 8 pints on a Saturday night. The reality is that they are going to believe their peers. By applying the same arguments to both soft and hard drugs we are undermining the battle against the real life destroyers cocaine, heroin and their variants. Young people are a lot smarter than people give them credit for and they are exposing our societies hypocritical, inconsistent and illogical attitude to drugs.
Chris , UK

Drug education campaigns work for people who'd probably never take drugs anyway.

Remember the Leah Betts posters? The sight of her dying was meant to frighten young people into not taking ecstasy. It didn't work. Why? Because more people die every year from eating peanuts than die from taking ecstasy. The overwhelming experience is one of pleasure and enjoyment. Drug education campaigns work for people who'd probably never take drugs anyway. To everybody else they are a joke and are ridiculously out of tune with reality. A sensible, fact-giving approach, which gives real information about the risks of drug use and how to avoid these would save many more lives and be much more cost effective.

At secondary school I was shown horrific videos of house fires, but there was a soft approach to discussing drugs. The drugs discussions didn't work, but I turn off lights at the mains switch almost obsessively. Shock tactics work, and in my experience the only other thing that works is hard, damaging experience. When trying to alter behaviour and stop natural curiosity, rational debate on the Whys and Wherefores are powerless.
Richard N, UK

When I was growing up in the 30's and 40's my generation never took drugs because we were told only idiots took drugs. None of us wanted to be thought an idiot. I came from Cambridge, England, a city full of young people. Yes we did smoke and drink in moderation, but that was all. I told my son, when he was 5, that there were things called drugs that made the brain go funny, and if anybody tried to get him to try them, to say no. I never mentioned it to him again until last year, he was 37. I asked him if he had ever tried drugs, and his answer, quote "No mum, I always had a fear they would damage my brain" unquote. Obviously what I told him at the age of 5 sunk in, probably because I never kept on about it.
Patricia, Australia

There are better ways of dealing with crack, heroin, dealers and 10 year olds.

Mel, UK
There is another forum here 'Are we doing enough to protect our children'. The discussion in that specific case may not be drugs. But by showing them a video which includes footage of a dead body when they are roughly 9 or 10 I think we can safely say 'No' we are not protecting them. We are robbing them of their childhood and innocence. There are better ways of dealing with crack, heroin, dealers and 10 year olds.
Mel, UK

What is the point of this hard-hitting campaign if the Government wants to legalise cannabis? One drug leads to another. This is just double standards - drugs have either got to be banned completely or not at all.
Liz Cooper, England

I believe shock tactics have an important role to play in anti-drugs education. When I was a teenager, I remember being shown a series of horrific pictures of people dying of drug addiction and the disfigured internal organs from autopsies of those who had died. This is the hard truth of much drug-taking that young people need to face. I believe it helped prevent drug abuse among my peers and it certainly put me off. When I worked as a youth worker, I employed a similar tactic and I firmly believe it worked better than the 'right-on' attitude of many anti-drugs counsellors. Teenagers are not stupid - they value their health and looks and certainly don't want to end up crippled and brain-damaged by hard drugs. We should not be afraid of showing them the terrible effects of drugs on their bodies.
Daniel Brett, Cambridge, England

I would rather personally answer any questions my children have on the subject

Paul, England
I would like to view this video, together with my children, as we would then be able to discuss the content as a family unit as well as the education that school gives. You do not need to be a scientist to know of the life threatening dangers of drugs and I do believe that shock tactics do work, but would rather personally answer any questions my children have on the subject and as such believe the video should be televised nationally.
Paul , West Midlands, England

We are always being told by campaigners that violence on TV is a bad thing as it desensitises us to violence. Surely if this is the case, repeated showing of drug use would have the same affect on children as violence on TV is supposed to have on adults.
Nigel, UK

Are shock tactics actually educational? I think not. A balanced approach highlighting the risks associated should be taken - that is one that highlights both sides of the argument.
Nick T, England

I would not describe this video and the supporting material as 'shock tactics'. I would term it 'harsh reality'. I have seen the video and was not shocked, but I was moved to tears by the tragedy that underlines the message. So far children are told 'just say no', with no real reason as to why they should. They're told that 'drugs kill' but not why or how. They get told about addiction, but not what addiction REALLY means. I applaud parents who want to deal with these issues themselves but, I'm sad to say, it seems that they are in the minority. There is a growing drug problem and it's not just poor kids who are involved. The sooner schools are allowed to get the REAL message out about drugs, the better off the entire country will be.
Maria, UK

To blanket-deny that shock tactics can work is to deny a lot of peoples' personal experience.

Steve B, Scotland
When I was 14 (1973) I was shown a film on heroin use. There were all sorts of graphic shock scenes including an autopsy on a dead heroin addict's body. The image that remained with me though and did shock me into a determination never to go there was the sight of a junkie removing a needle from his leg then putting it back into the same hole.
My point is not that shock tactics work or don't work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. The smoker's lungs we were shown at school didn't stop me smoking cannabis years later. My point is different images will have different effects on different children, but to blanket-deny that shock tactics can work is to deny a lot of peoples' personal experience.
Steve B, Scotland

Drug danger awareness and education and programs are very important. However deliberate shock is, in my opinion, inappropriate for young children, although I do believe it may have a place for older teenagers in the discussion of drugs issues. Personally, I would not want my child to be exposed to 'violent' shock tactics, at primary school. Why should they be? Childhood is short enough as it is, these days. Children need to nurtured and informed so as to have the strength of character to say NO, side-stepping any "peer" pressure, and seeing drugs for the life damaging agents they are. It seems very unlikely that this process happens 'overnight'. Our children do however, need to be protected from 'predators' at all costs, and are let down by the authorities, if particular urgent priority is not given to rooting out the source of the problem and potential exposure to drugs.
Andy, UK

We have in the UK 33,000 people die a year from alcohol related deaths. We have 300 people die a week from tobacco related disease. Yet we still educate our children into believing that these are socially acceptable. Pure ecstasy itself only kills maybe 10 people a year, and heroin also kills few people. The impurities associated with heroin and ecstasy on the streets and overdoses are what kill people. Leah Betts died after drinking too much water trying to be safe from the dehydrating effects of ecstasy. She was probably never taught that drinking too much water was as dangerous as not drinking enough. Many of the facts here will be unknown to the majority of you because the media and the government don't willingly tell you that the legal drugs that they accept kill literally thousands of people a year.
Rahul, UK

Lives will not be saved.

Russell Hope, London
My generation have been repeatedly subjected to images of charred, infected lungs all through our school careers to dissuade us from smoking, and what good has that done?! The problem with 'shock' campaigns is that they misrepresent the wider image, yet are targeted at an audience who, for the most part understand the real picture to an greater extent than those in government... This seems a very quaint move to pacify middle England, but once again it shows this government tip-toeing around the issue at the expense of tackling head-on the conditions which create the problem. A series of parodied, unrepresentative images will not create an effect in the minds of those who have seen the effects of drug in real life and consider it to be "not as bad as they're saying". It won't achieve a thing, other than increase Middle England's paternal righteous indignation. Lives will not be saved.
Russell Hope, London, EU

I wonder how many of those debating this issue have actually read the research into whether shock tactics work? If the government thinks that it does work, then why are they not explaining the research evidence to us? If the research evidence does not support shock tactics, then why are the government even thinking about it?
Adam, UK

It surprises me that nobody focuses on an anti drugs message based on denigrating the dealer. Show people the utter contempt that all dealers hold for their victim and there might be a result. By showing the effects on addicts to young confident people (all kids) who know they have the strength of character to try drugs and not to become an addict is less than pointless. Can nobody think laterally?
Simon Mallett, UK

I would not like my 9-year-old to be subjected to these kind of "shock tactics" on drugs. He's an innocent and I don't want him to be exposed to such upsetting images. Instead I prefer to bring him up in an open family environment, in which his questions are answered on all subjects including soft and hard drugs and that also means cigarettes and alcohol. He knows what hard drugs are and what they can do, he doesn't need to see it.
Marty , Belgium

Heroin is a very dangerous drug, and its effects are so severe that telling the truth may not be very different to shock tactics.

Anon, UK
I think shock tactics need to be used very carefully. I was always taught that all drugs were very dangerous and would ruin my life if I took them, but when I met nice, stable, normal people taking soft drugs recreationally I didn't know what to believe any more. Fortunately, through good friends and honest websites I found out the truth about drugs, and made up my own mind. (I have never taken a class A drug, and despite having plenty of friends who use E and coke recreationally, I have never felt any peer pressure to join in.) Heroin is a very dangerous drug, and its effects are so severe that telling the truth may not be very different to shock tactics. However, even 9-year-old kids can tell when you're sensationalising the truth and the story of Rachel Whitear should be put across as calm, objective truth if it's going to make a positive difference.
Anon, UK

A combination of shock tactics and facts should be used to give students all the information available regarding the use of drugs. I have experimented myself but I was no longer a student - it took me so long to experiment because I was afraid of what drugs would do to me, what I would be getting for my money and whether or not I would wake up afterwards. Unfortunately, students who are not given ALL the facts draw their conclusions from the experiences (usually good) of their peers who have used or regularly use drugs. The same goes for anything - alcohol, sex education, mathematics ...
Amanda Wilkinson, UK

I'm sorry but it's not just a matter of opinion. Try as many approaches as possible. Then compare the effects. Use the most effective method but keep trying new ones. Over time, what is effective may change. We need to use any means necessary.
Alcuin, UK

Why not, if nothing else seems to be working. These tactics however should include all drugs, especially as smoking and alcohol are the biggest killers. It is very annoying when these drugs are referred to separately - just because they are "legal" does not make them harmless.

At the end of the day, the government cannot force people to stop experimenting / taking drugs so maybe it is the time for shock tactics, sometimes the "tell it as it is" approach is the only way forward. These tactics should also be all encompassing - concentrating not only on the physical damage but also the psychological affects as well. Many young people do not realise the permanent psychological damage that they are inflicting on themselves, which will come back to haunt them in later life.
Dave, UK

There is only one way of teaching people: Tell Them The Truth.

Johannes Gerber, UK
There is only one way of teaching people: Tell Them The Truth. Unfortunately, this seems to be unacceptable. Shock tactics work only if they are backed up with concrete information. 'You will die if you touch drugs' will not work. 'Been there, done that, I'm now a wreck - I was lucky I didn't die' will work much better, and is much more shocking because instead of pictures, it is a real human being. The only way shocking works if the people are shocked, and this only happens if they think about the issue, having enough information to understand the issue.
Johannes Gerber, UK

No, it will not work. All these campaigns ever focus on is the negative implications of drug taking - death, disease and addiction. What is needed is an effort to explain WHY people take drugs and what pleasures they get from them. Simply trying to scare children off is lazy and futile.
John G, London,UK

Talking PointFORUM
Drug Education
Do shock tactics work?
See also:

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