These FAQs (frequently asked questions) to address topical questions regarding methamphetamine and young people in the context of schools have been funded by and developed in partnership with the Department of Education. Information is provided on the following frequently asked questions:
What is methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine is an amphetamine-type stimulant. Stimulants speed up the function of the brain and central nervous system. Methamphetamine comes in three different forms:
- powder or pills (speed) that can be swallowed, snorted or injected
- a thick, oily substance (base) that can be swallowed or injected
- crystals or coarse, crystal-like powder (ice) that can be smoked or injected
Are students using methamphetamine?
Most school students do not use meth/amphetamine, including crystal methamphetamine (ice). The Australian School Students Alcohol and Drug Survey (ASSAD) - which surveys alcohol and drug use among 12 to 17 year old students - shows that use of Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS) has in fact, been decreasing over time. The latest WA results continue to demonstrate a downward trend in the percentage of students who reported ever using ATS, with a decline from 14.3% in 1999 to 3.5% in 2014.
Is there really a nationwide epidemic of methamphetamine use?
The latest figures from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) - which surveys around 24,000 Australians aged 12 and over every 2-3 years on their drug use, patterns, attitudes and behaviour - shows that the number of people using meth/amphetamine has been declining since 1998 - when recent use peaked at 3.7% - and has continued to declined to 2.1% in 2013 and to 1.4% in 2016.
Although the number of people using this drug has remained stable between 2010 and 2013, concerns have been generated by the fact that an increase has been shown to have occurred in the number of meth/amphetamine users who are choosing to use the purer, more potent form of this drug - crystal methamphetamine (ice) - which has the potential to cause more severe problems. (Use of ice by those using meth/amphetamine was shown in the NDSHS to have increased from 22% in 2010 to 57% in 2016.)
So, these figures do not reflect a nationwide epidemic of methamphetamine use but they do indicate an increased use of the more potent form of this drug - crystal methamphetamine (ice) - by those using meth/amphetamine. This may then create the potential for increased problems such as increase in hospital presentations, ambulance call-outs and psychiatric consequences by this population of users.
This highlights the need for a clear strategy to assist people who are using ice, their families and those in front-line support services. The National Ice Action Strategy also stresses the need to engage schools and the broader community in prevention education to emphasise more clearly, the risks of methamphetamine and other drugs in order to prevent and/or reduce risk of harm.
What is school drug education?
Effective school drug education focuses on skills development and provides students with the capacity to make healthier and more responsible decisions for their own and others’ safety and wellbeing. We have moved a long way from the traditional approach to drug education, which focused mainly on provision of information about drugs and their possible harmful consequences.
While still including this, best practice drug education now explores and develops students' drug related knowledge, skills, attitudes and values through use of inclusive and interactive teaching strategies. It fosters resilience through nurturing a sense of belonging and connectedness both to the school and to the broader community and works towards preventing and reducing the harms from drug use.
Why is school drug education important?
We live in a society where drugs, legal and illegal (over-the-counter medications, alcohol and tobacco, cannabis and methamphetamine), are, to varying extents, available. Research shows that school drug education opens up a dialogue about drugs and consequences of drug use that allows relevant issues to be discussed and explored in appropriate contexts.
School drug education engages young people in activities that assist them to make healthier and safer choices. Through provision of accurate information and interactive activities, it improves their ability to identify risky situations, make informed decisions and develop strategies that prepare them for challenging situations where they may be exposed to opportunities to use drugs.
By fostering resilience and providing appropriate channels for support should drug use issues exist, school drug education can work to reduce potential and existing harms of drug use.
A range of resources to assist school staff in delivering drug education and understanding how to provide appropriate support is available on this website.
When should schools educate students about methamphetamine?
Prevention education is best introduced when the prevalence of use of the particular drug is still low and before most young people are exposed to the possibility of use. It is therefore important that drug education is started in early childhood. Drug education must also be age appropriate and continue through a child’s years of schooling in order to build their knowledge, skills and experiences and to bring about effective behaviour change.
Drug education programs develop a range of skills such as decision making, help seeking and problem solving, and the content through which students practise these skills, as well as being age appropriate, must be relevant to the students’ needs.
For these reasons, education about methamphetamine would be included from the secondary years of schooling.
In the early years (Kindergarten- Year 2), programs should focus on safe use of prescription and over-the-counter medications and non-medicinal alternatives to these drugs such as relaxation and using coping strategies; hazardous and poisonous substances such as cleaning and gardening products, as well as the warning signs on these. Legal drugs such as caffeine (contained in energy drinks) and tobacco (passive smoking) should also be included in classroom programs.
In the middle and upper primary years (Years 3 -6), programs should focus on that identified above as well as safe use of analgesics. Alcohol and, in later primary years, illegal drugs such as cannabis should also be included in classroom programs. Programs should also explore the range of factors that can combine and lead to possible consequences if students chose to use a drug. This assists in promoting awareness of how to reduce risks of harm.
In the secondary years, programs should focus on legal drugs such as alcohol, caffeine (energy drinks), tobacco, over-the-counter and prescription medicines, illegal drugs such as cannabis, synthetic cannabis, and other illicit drugs including methamphetamine. Students should also continue to explore more broadly the range of factors that can contribute to a drug use experience. This promotes understanding that the context in which drug use occurs can either exacerbate or reduce the risks of harm. This provides opportunity for students to identify how potential harms can be avoided or reduced and to develop or extend the skills that assist with this.
Note: Education on Volatile Substances should only be provided with professional support and targeted to those known to have issues around use of volatile substances. The National Drug Strategy supports that this not be included in classroom programs to avoid ‘copycat’ behaviour.
How should schools incorporate methamphetamine education into their teaching and learning programs?
Prevention education is best introduced when the prevalence of use of the particular drug is still low and before most young people are exposed to the possibility of use. It is therefore important that drug education is started in early childhood, is age appropriate and continues through a child’s years of schooling in order to build their knowledge, skills and experiences and to bring about effective behaviour change.
There are three critical phases when the intervention effects of drug education are most likely to be optimised, and include:
- Phase 1: Inoculation which is when children are first exposed to certain drugs.
- Phase 2: Early relevancy which is where information and skills may have practical application in real life.
- Phase 3: Later relevancy which is when prevalence of alcohol and drug use increases and the context of use changes.
The early adolescence years are a crucial phase where schools need to implement both resilience and drug education programs since this is when young people are more likely to be faced with many influences to use both licit and illicit drugs. Engaging students in drug education programs assists them to make healthier and safer choices, identify high risk situations, and develop a range of strategies to prepare them for challenging situations. A consistent message given to young people is that there is no safe level of drug use and that any drug has the potential to cause harm.
Using SDERA’s drug education resource Challenges and Choices for Years 7, 8, 9 and 10, aligned to the Western Australian Curriculum, will ensure that teachers introduce teaching and learning programs about methamphetamine and other illicit as well as licit drugs in a way that is age appropriate and relevant to the students’ needs.
What are the best ways to educate students about the potential harms of methamphetamine and other drugs?
Effective drug education in schools is known to be achieved best through a structured approach to the provision of information and support and the development of skills that aim to reduce students’ risk of harm from drug use.
Best practice drug education explores and develops students' drug related knowledge, skills, attitudes and values through use of inclusive and interactive teaching strategies. The content through which students practise these skills, as well as being age appropriate, must be relevant to the students’ needs. Drug education is also best introduced when the prevalence of use of the particular drug is still low and before most young people are exposed to the possibility of use of that drug.
For these reasons, education about methamphetamine and other illicit drugs would be included from the secondary years of schooling.
For further detailed information about how to provide best practice school drug education, download the What is school drug education? fact sheet.
Should schools inform parents of their intentions to deliver methamphetamine and other drug education?
Research shows that school drug education opens up a dialogue about drugs and consequences of drug use that allows relevant issues to be discussed and explored in appropriate contexts. Involving parents in this dialogue is essential and can only happen if parents are informed of the school’s intentions around drug education.
Being made aware of what school drug education actually is and what it focuses on can ease concerns of parents who may otherwise be misinformed about the content and intentions of drug education programs.
Consistent with the Department’s Student Behaviour Policy and Procedures, principals are already required to document a whole school plan for positive behaviour support that outlines the measures that will be taken to address drug and alcohol misuse by students. This plan must focus on teaching strategies, classroom management strategies and provision of evidence-based drug and alcohol education.
In addition, schools can also inform parents through:
- a letter sent home with each student (refer example)
- guiding parents to the What is school drug education? fact sheet
- including information about drug education programs in the school newsletter and website
- developing, and making available, a whole school drug education plan (referred to as School drug education guidelines in SDERA resources) – see Whole School Drug Education Plan
- directing parents to SDERA’s website to read about best practice drug education to aid their understanding of what this involves.
An inclusive approach where parents are made aware and kept informed of what the school is doing in terms of drug education allows the whole-school community to work together with the aim of reducing the risks of harm from drug use.
What can schools do to prevent or minimise drug related harm for young people?
Effective school drug education can best be achieved through a structured approach that provides information and support and assists students to develop skills that aim to reduce their risk of harm from drug use. As with any other area of education, knowledge is acquired over time and skills improve only with opportunity to practice. For these reasons and others, research (Principles for School Drug Education, DEST, 2004) tells us that the best people to provide drug education throughout a student’s years of schooling are the school staff.
Drug use is complex. Students can be affected by their own drug use or the drug use of others. School drug education aims to reduce the harms associated with use and to promote healthier, alternative behaviours. A harm minimisation approach – the approach supported by national and state strategy - promotes non-use and delayed use of all drugs, and is an inclusive approach that is supportive of young people who are not using drugs, those who may be experimenting with drugs and those who may be experiencing issues related to drug use.
Providing drug based teaching and learning programs aligned to the Western Australian Curriculum. Teaching drug education in schools - and supporting this with adequate processes and procedures should any student by found to have a drug use issue or should a drug use incident occur (refer Whole School Drug Education Plan) ensures that schools are being pro-active in working to reduce potential or existing harm from drug use in the student population.
How can schools maximise support for young people at risk of harm from drug use?
Drug use is complex and the issues and consequences that surround it can be confusing and may seem difficult to manage. Problems with drug use on any level should be treated like any other health related issue. This means that it is important to know where to seek help in order to access appropriate support to make sure the concerns can be addressed and help given where it is needed most.
For schools, it is important to have a whole school drug education plan including clearly documented procedures for incident management and intervention support. Having these in place and known by all staff works to ensure a consistent and thorough process is followed should any student drug use issue emerge. These procedures are protective of both staff members and students.
Working with appropriate, documented procedures for drug related incidents and issues can ensure that students at risk of harm get the support they need and remain connected to school which is widely acknowledged as a protective factor. This is also protective for staff who can be reassured that they are meeting their duty of care as relevant to their role within the school.
For further information about providing support to students who may be at risk of harm from drug use, download the Who can help? fact sheet.
School staff can also attend SDERA’s professional learning workshops- Getting it Together: Developing a whole school drug education plan.
Contact SDERA for further guidance and support.
Does talking about drugs increase the likelihood that young people will use drugs?
We live in a society where drugs, legal and illegal (over-the-counter medications, alcohol and tobacco, cannabis and methamphetamine), are, to varying extents, available. References to drugs and their use occur frequently on television shows and through news items and articles on social media.
Research shows that school drug education opens up a dialogue about drugs and consequences of drug use that allows relevant issues to be discussed and explored in appropriate context. This allows accurate information to be provided and discussed in an educational environment where support and follow-up discussion may also occur with trusted members of the school staff.
Providing an environment where young people can ask questions or seek guidance on their concerns about drugs or drug use without fear of getting into trouble is protective and encourages help seeking behaviour.
By fostering resilience, developing social skills, and providing appropriate channels for support should drug use issues exist, talking about drugs through school drug education can work to reduce potential and existing harms of drug use.
How should schools explain their approach to drug education to those in the school community who feel it is a sensitive or controversial topic?
The topic of drugs and drug use is one that can raise anxiety for some people. A lack of understanding about the focus and intentions of school drug education may lead to some students, staff or parents feeling concerned about drug education being provided at school.
It is important to address these concerns with empathy while explaining quite clearly that far from being all about drugs, best practice, effective school drug education focuses on engaging young people in activities that assist them to develop the knowledge and skills to make healthier and safer choices.
Through provision of accurate information and interactive activities, it improves their ability to identify risky situations, make informed decisions and develop strategies that prepare them for challenging situations where they may be exposed to opportunities to use drugs.
We live in a society where drugs, legal and illegal (over-the-counter medications, alcohol and tobacco, cannabis and methamphetamine), are, to varying extents, available. Research shows that school drug education opens up a dialogue about drugs and consequences of drug use that allows relevant issues to be discussed and explored in appropriate context.
By fostering resilience and providing appropriate channels for support should drug use issues exist, school drug education can work to reduce potential and existing harms of drug use.
For tools to assist in explaining approaches to drug education refer to SDERA’s Letter to parents about school drug education and What is school drug education? fact sheet. For further support or guidance contact SDERA directly.