How the Education Sector should respond to the Substance Use issue


UNESCO, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) released last week the joint publication on Substance Use, Good Policy and Practice in Health Education: Education sector responses to the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

Christophe Cornu, Senior Programme Specialist and Team Leader in the Section of Health and Education at UNESCO, presented the new joint publication during a side event on “Schools as valuable social institutions for prevention and to build socio-emotional skills”.

Why the Education Sector should respond to Substance Use among children and young people

Use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs commonly begins in adolescence. It is associated with a wide range of negative impacts on young people’s mental and physical health as well as on their wellbeing over the short and long term. Linked with a number of negative education-related consequences, including poor school engagement and performance, and school dropout, it has a negative impact on education sector efforts to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all and accomplish the new global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The education sector has therefore a fundamental responsibility to prevent and address substance use among children and young people.

“The value added of this new resource is that, for the very first time, a publication considers all components of a comprehensive education sector response to substance use, moving away from a focus on school-based interventions only.” Christophe Cornu, UNESCO

Key principles for education sector responses to substance use

Examples of good practice from various countries shared during the side event highlighted some of the key principles of effective substance use prevention education, also described in detail in the joint UNESCO-UNODC-WHO publication.

Base all responses on scientific evidence
Set goals relevant to the prevalence and patterns of substance use in a given context
Start early, cover all age groups and target especially the transition periods
Focus on strengthening the emotional and social life skills of children and adolescents
Enhance their participation through interactive teaching methods
A key joint publication is the fruit of an extensive international consultation

The booklet is the result of an international consultation process involving extensive literature reviews and an international experts meeting.

Within the framework set by the International Standards on Drug Use Prevention and Health for the World’s Adolescents, this joint publication:

Provides the context, rationale and a comprehensive conceptual framework for improved education sector responses to substance use;

Presents evidence-based and promising policies and practice, including practical examples from different regions that have been shown to be effective by scientific research;

Suggests issues to consider in scaling up and sustaining effective education sector approaches and programmes in responding to substance use.