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close this bookPrevention of Drug Abuse through Education and Information: An Interdiscplinary Responsibility Within the Context of Human Development (EC - UNESCO, 1994, 26 p.)
close this folderINTRODUCTION
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View the documentOn the importance of preventive education
View the documentOn the priority of the concept of human development
View the documentOn the importance of interdisciplinarity


Drug abuse is a complex phenomenon: its prevention demands that a whole range of intricate theoretical and methodological measures and techniques be set in place.

This document proposes to analyze the conceptual and practical field on which preventive actions are based, in order to be able to define preventive education - its epistemology, its role and the supports it uses - in relation to UNESCO's objective of contributing to human development. To this end, the document describes and examines a variety of theoretical and technical measures, target audiences and criteria for selecting partners in preventive education programmes.

The abuse of drugs is a human phenomenon and, as such, must not be challenged in the same way as other phenomena. For the first time in the history of humanity, we are faced with an epidemic which attacks and undermines the very fabric of society, and not just the physical body of the individual. Because the phenomenon is so complex, it necessitates solutions which integrate several theoretical disciplines (interdisciplinarity) by means of a transverse analysis (transdisciplinarity) of practices which take into account the qualitative aspects of human development.

The massive eruption of problems linked to drugs in modern society calls our lifestyles and the political, economic and socio-cultural organization of our societies quite radically into question. It equally raises questions about the place of the symbolic dimension in our cultures. An issue so complex and of such growing magnitude cannot, however, be dealt with in a simplistic and voluntaristic manner ("just say no"), or by strategies of an essentially aggressive nature, such as "war on drugs".

According to Baudrillard «It is imperative to realize that the problem of drug-taking must be approached with sensitivity, and (because it is an ambiguous problem) with strategies that are, themselves ambiguous. The best form of prevention is to introduce a symbolical element into the social strategy, a difficult undertaking which involved flying the fact of today's excessive rationalization and social organization. Lack of a ready made solution does not spell failure, and we must at all costs avoid clear-cut unilateral strategies of denunciation, whereby one kind of society takes complacent refuge in its own hypocrisy. Drug-use is a question to which there are no glib answers»

In the face of an issue of such complexity, UNESCO's role is to propose a wide range of integrated actions which link together all types of knowledge and skills (interdisciplinarity). UNESCO's programme of preventive education was planned so as to embrace the ideological, cultural and spiritual dimensions of society. It suggests horizons for action which traverse social domains as varied as sports, technology and the arts, all of which are essential for human development, for the promotion of tolerance, peace, democracy and the respect of human rights.

1) Jean Baudrillard. The Courier, UNESCO, July 1987

On the importance of preventive education

Preventive education is founded on two essential premises: firstly, education is a tool of prevention, and secondly, prevention of drug abuse is possible. But, before analyzing the effectiveness of preventive education, it seems worthwhile to rapidly redefine a few concepts and put them back into context.

First of all, the use of drugs is a human phenomenon; it does not exist in the animal world (2). As it is within a socio-cultural context that the use and abuse of drugs is rooted and the reasons for this are to be found, it is, therefore, within that same context that prevention becomes possible. Whence the fundamental role of education for the prevention of drug abuse.

(2) with but one or two exceptions

However, the issue is not that of eliminating the use of drugs by individuals, but rather a question of recognizing this fact as being a problem of society. Some anthropological studies indicate that society creates and sets in place integrated control mechanisms aimed at reducing or minimizing the harmful effects of drugs. When the fabric of society begins to crack, the wherewithal for control is lost.(3)

(3) N. Zinberg. Drug, set and setting. Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1974

What is usually understood by prevention?

Latin etymology (prae-venire: come before) places the preventive act in a chronological setting - to act in anticipation of the problem - thus creating a paradox. If the problem does not arise, it is impossible to subsequently verify whether the preventive act has been effective. Prevention becomes non-perceptible and, in turn, non-verifiable. This the first difficulty with which any preventive intervention has to contend.

Let us pass on to some definitions of " prevent " - to anticipate something undesirable in order to stop it or to ward it off; to satisfy in advance; to warn in a threatening manner; and " prevention " - a preconceived opinion about individuals or things with unfavorable connotations of mistrust; or a state of mind which is predisposed to one thing or another.

An analysis of these definitions reflects the difficulties inherent in preventive action. Considering what has to be prevented as " undesirable " returns us to the field of morals and, thus, of ideologies; prevention then becomes a sanctimonious enterprise. If to prevent is considered to mean " to satisfy in advance ", then no verification is possible and prevention becomes a form of voluntarism. Moreover, the popular meaning " prevention is better than cure ", is a direct link to the curative act, creating a bond between the realm of sickness and disease and the notion of prevention. Indeed, it is this latter concept upon which most existing intervention models are now based, just as it is the most customary definition of prevention.

The medical model of prevention, built up at the end of the XIXth century following Pasteur's discoveries about infectious diseases, is the product of deterministic Cartesian logic of the cause and effect type based on the history of diseases. This, in itself, is the fruit of knowledge acquired as to the origins of disease (the cause), recognition of symptoms (effects) and reconstruction of the mechanisms of propagation (linking effect to cause). The medical model of prevention is based upon certain characteristics of the origins of infectious diseases and their mechanisms of propagation: suppression of the cause, which is usually unique and identifiable, interruption of propagation mechanisms, which are normally natural, linear, able to be pinpointed and wiped out; and protection of the population, the widest expression of which is the vaccination campaign. Generally speaking, when everything is known about a disease, it is by combining these three strategies that the model of intervention would attain its level of excellence.

" It is important to emphasize that the medical prevention model created as a result of the fight against infectious diseases, has, thanks to its efficiency, rationalized the biggest fears and emotions of our overall powerlessness linked to the major epidemics that have marked the history of mankind. " ... " how much this model has acheived ... a strong credibility as a result of its capacity in provoking great collective fears and giving the human being a feeling of control over the curse that awaits them " (4)

(4) Rouge, Alain, Prevention: les limites du mod mcal. Les Cahiers de la CORIEF, No. 1. January 1988

The way the generalized spread of the abuse of drugs in modern societies is perceived as " the " scourge of the century, conjures up the image of an illusory world where fear and feelings of impotence remain the same as in the past. However, unlike the great epidemics of the last century, today it is the body of society that is attacked and undermined and not simply the physical body of the individual. Because symbolic strategies of educational action must be set in place there is a dangerous temptation to apply the linear model of medical intervention to the complex field of social phenomena.

According to UNESCO's Preventive Education Programme (5) «Prevention of drug abuse does not only mean equipping individuals to deal with this problem by providing them with the abilities to think, make choices, help them to relate to the past and become involved in the future of their physical and social environment. Prevention must essentially pro -vide the resources necessary to induce personal expression, restore dialogue and overcome indifference. Social activities in the sphere of the arts, music and sport are all preferential methods of communication which, not only procure pleasure, but also offer the means to replace the violence inherent in non-dialogue (and drug abuse is the most insidious), to promote authentic discourse, creativity and provide opportunities to enter into contact with others and to experience solidarity».

(5) Drugs. Demand Reduction. UNESCO's contribution through preventive education, p.5 Position paper 1993

Through this Programme, UNESCO, in collaboration with the other agencies of the United Nations System, proposes a new conceptual field and a new pragmatic approach to the prevention of drug abuse. This strategy must be integrated as an innovative axis in the teaching-Learning process, because its nucleus is education and information and not merely the transmission of knowledge which has no effect on behaviour - " learning to be ". Preventive education presumes a reciprocal communication which fosters integration of knowledge and feelings, of the individual and his group, of public and private spheres -through dynamic interactions aimed at achieving harmonious human development.

On the priority of the concept of human development

Human development is a process of enlarging peoples choices. In principle, these choices can be infinite and change over time. But, at all levels of development the three essential ones are for people to lead a long and healthy life, to acquire knowledge and to have access to resources needed for a decent standard of living. Human development is an ideological concept, based on the premise that it is rightful to promote social progress. To quantify and clarify the process of human development a new yardstick of human progress, the Human Development Index (HDI) was formulated which, through the medium of indicators which combine the purchasing power of countries with those of the Health and Education sectors, thus offering a much more comprehensive measure of development than Gross National Product (GNP) alone.

The Human Development Index (HDI) classifies different countries with very interesting results for the introduction of programmes and policies at local, regional, national and international levels, and particularly so far as drug abuse is concerned. (6) As yet, the qualitative dimensions of development, and socio-cultural variables, are perhaps not sufficiently taken into account at the local and community levels. Whence the importance of education which intersects all domains - from the cognitive to the affective - and of preventive education which, based on local, municipal, community and regional realities is, also, an element in human development. It is quite clear that, through preventive education, the living conditions of populations can be improved if their needs for education and health are taken into account. Without this, other opportunities remain inaccessible.

(6) For further information, see "Human Development Report", 1993

On the importance of interdisciplinarity

As the problem of drugs is a problem with different components, the diversity of angles of approaches is central to any solution. Preventive education provides a transversal link between the specific phenomena of drug abuse and other global social phenomena. An interdisciplinary approach must be developed because the phenomena encompass a multitude of fields of theory and practice - psychology, psychiatry, medicine, history, ethnology, Sociology, education, law, social and welfare work...

The abuse of drugs is an obstacle to human development and a factor to be taken into consideration in promoting this ideal. To respond adequately to the question of drug abuse, preventive education has, therefore, been assigned a two-fold goal: to forestall the abusive use of drugs and so to promote human development. This being so an interdisciplinary approach is crucial and, given that drugs cross practically all fields of knowledge and affectivity, to consider the problem as a transdisciplinary issue.