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close this bookDrug Education: Programmes and Methodology - An Overview of Opportunities for Drug Prevention (EC - UNESCO, 1995, 41 p.)
close this folderIII. Methods and techniques of drug education
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View the documentDrug Education and Mass Media
View the documentPrinciples of Mass Media
Open this folder and view contentsDrug Education utilizing group methods and techniques


A number of communication methods and techniques can be applied to attain the goals and objectives of drug education. In general, a distinction is made between education using group methods and education using mass media techniques.

Education using group methods refers to a wide range of techniques and methods, for example:

- Classroom teaching, e.g effects of drugs on the brain in biology-classes;

- Lectures, e.g «drug use by adolescents» for an audience of parents;

- Small group discussion, e.g "how to cope with a drug user in a family";

- Training, e.g general practitioners how to detect drug problems early;

- Role playing, e.g counsellors teach communication with a pupil;

- Panel or forum discussions, e.g. community-leaders and citizens on prevention plans and policies;

- Demonstrations, e.g how to work with a drug information kit;

- Exhibitions, e.g of educational materials: posters, leaflets, videos;

- Symposia and study conferences on a wide range of drug prevention matters.

Education using mass media signifies several types of mass communication methods and approaches. For example:

- Mass media campaigns at national, regional, local levels, broadcasting anti-drug spots on television and/or radio;

- Television and radio programmes: drug information series, drug education, drug treatment, interviews with drug users, ex-addicts, drug experts; - Newspaper advertisements (or in weekly, monthly magazines);

- Magazines for young people with background information, interviews, prevention and education materials;

- Educational materials containing drug information distributed house-to-house;

- Posters, booklets, stickers, leaflets, distributed to the general public in the streets, stations, markets, etc;

- Audio or audio-visual material (audio tapes, videos); - Information services using public telephone numbers.

A decision about which educational method or technique is the most appropriate very much depends on the goals of the prevention programme or educational action, the target group to whom the programme is addressed and the funds available. Generally speaking, the first choice to be made is between an approach using group methods or one in favour of mass media techniques and, in this respect, a very important question is the desired influence on the target group. What does one want to change, strengthen or confirm? Education using group methods essentially has more impact on attitudes, social norms and behaviour like "stay drug free", learn peer refusal skills, etc. Moreover, the relationship between an educator or change agent and the selected target group is close, especially if the educator is considered both credible and expert.

An educator applying group methods can also pay more attention to specific cultural and social psychological factors presumed to have great impact on attitudes and social norms in respect of drugs and drug abuse.

To illustrate this point, in the Netherlands as in many other countries, there live several ethnic minority groups who are considered to be at higher risk of involvement in drug abuse. The introduction and spread of heroin among the young Mollucan community (originally living in Indonesia), for example, indicates a specific pattern, rather different from that in other community groups. It might be argued that heroin use is seen as a symbolic expression of the confirmation of solidarity of the group members in the Mollucan community and aimed at strengthening cohesion of specific clusters of young people within this community (14). A mass media campaign to communicate a message with strong emphasis on the dangers of heroin use would run the risk of denying the socio-psychological function of drug use in this community and would, therefore, probably be ineffective. A more effective strategy would be to educate and train the minority community leaders in discussion techniques to heighten the awareness of youth in their community to the dramatic impact and counter effects of heroin use on cohesion and solidarity.

(14) Buisman, W. R. Educational Messages in Alcohol and Drug Education. In: Proceedings of the 34th ICAA International Congress on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Calgary, Canada.

Education utilising mass media channels has a potentially wider range of public exposure, but the relationship between the source (educator or educational organisation) and the target audience is often rather weak. It is hardly possible to discuss social norms and behaviour with the target audience in these circumstances, and we cannot therefore expect dramatic changes in attitudes or behaviour through mass media education. On the other hand, mass media could serve to raise awareness of the existence of drug problems by offering correct information and news about the latest methods of treatment and research findings. Another important function of mass media can be to support drug education activities initiated in a community by using the "news and agenda setting" function to announce information on those activities, to interview key persons involved in the programme and broadcast statements of opinion by community leaders about their attitudes towards drug education programmes.

The next paragraph describes the possibilities, advantages and disadvantages of mass media in drug education, as well as concepts and methods of group drug education (mainly in formal education).