Management of substance abuse

Joint UNESCO, UNODC and WHO publication on education sector responses to substance use

in 2017 UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) released a booklet on Education sector responses to the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, in the UNESCO series Good Policy and Practice in Health Education.

This joint publication "Good Policy and Practice in Health Education: Education sector responses to the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs." provides the context, rationale and a comprehensive conceptual framework for improved education sector responses to substance use. It presents evidence-based and promising policies and practice, including practical examples from different regions that have been shown to be effective by scientific research. It also suggests issues to consider in scaling up and sustaining effective education sector responses to substance use.

Developed within the framework set by the International Standards on Drug Use Prevention (UNODC, 2013) and Health for the World’s Adolescents (WHO, 2014), it is the result of an international consultation process involving extensive global, regional and country-based literature reviews and an international expert meeting.

Substance use, including use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, is associated with a wide range of negative impacts on young people’s mental and physical health as well as on their well-being over the short and long term. Substance use has also proven to be linked with a number of negative education-related consequences, including poor school engagement and performance, and school dropout.

The education sector has a responsibility to protect children and young people from substance use. Prevention should start early, cover all age groups, and especially target critical transition periods in the development of children and young people. A comprehensive education sector response to substance use comprises:

  • Education sector policy and strategy frameworks
  • National and subnational curricula
  • Training and support for educational personnel
  • Evidence-based responses at school level
  • Appropriate school health services
  • Effective management of the education sector response

However, the quality of existing responses is often poor. The education sector in many countries is not meaningfully involved in the national response to substance use, or approaches are not based on scientific evidence, thus wasting previous resources. In some cases, these approaches even have unintended consequences that may end up harming young people. Some countries have pockets of evidence-based responses, which unfortunately are not sustained or scaled up nationwide.