Attempts to frighten youngsters away from drugs are counter-productive and more likely to encourage them to try illegal substances, police chiefs were warned yesterday.
The conference was also told that teachers should consider telling children from 10 upwards about the risks of taking drugs such as ecstasy at 'rave' parties.
Alistair Ramsay, an adviser on drugs education at Strathclyde Regional Council, told the Acpo conference: 'Frightening and horrifying children is worse than doing nothing.'
He said the current education policy was failing, and cited a study in Rotterdam in 1972 which found that more than 7 per cent of secondary school pupils started taking drugs after being given 'shock' education. This compared to a 2.6 per cent increase for youngsters who discussed issues they thought were relevant. A control group who were given no education increased their use of narcotics by 3.6 per cent.
More recent studies have confirmed these findings.
Mr Ramsay criticised many of the existing education programmes that just emphasised the negative aspects of drug use. 'We are trying to ram an adult agenda down their (youngsters') throats,' he said.
He called instead for educationalists to take more notice of youngsters' views and experiences. 'We are going to have to invest time and money. Current drug education is not working,' he said.
In the Independent on 10 June a photograph was used showing members of the Community Alcohol and Drug Service at King's Lynn, Norfolk, carrying out a classroom drug-education session. The caption, based on an accompanying article, referred to how the use of scare stories could encourage children to try drugs. The service has asked us to point out that they do not use scare stories, instead they aim to answer questions as honestly as possible and to avoid lecturing on the evils of drugs.