Why Not Find Out isn’t just an online platform, it’s also a campaign that tours the UK visiting colleges, universities and other public events such as festivals and carnivals. WNFO promotes greater knowledge and insight into the evolving drug landscape through a series of awareness stalls; last year we had conversations with 855 people.
It’s important for all young people to be informed so they can keep themselves and others safe, drugs education can help but it’s not statutory – only 48% of students receive drug education once a year or less. Most students receive patchy drug education, they account for 63% and, they believe it is delivered to a sufficient standard. So, the WNFO campaign was developed for young people in higher education who might not have had access to drug information, it aimed to empower them to become more knowledgeable around substances and their effects.
When it comes to understanding young people’s perceptions of different substances, students are a rich source of information, so we decided to distribute anonymous surveys during Freshers’ Week 2017 that reached over 300 students. The number of people who answered each question varied, so we were only able to get a rough idea of attitudes towards certain topics.
We found a small number of students had taken a new psychoactive substance (NPS) – 25% out of 328 people. In our conversations with students, we found most were unfamiliar with this term or had little knowledge of the names of drugs under this category; it came as a shock that nitrous oxide (otherwise known as balloons) was an NPS and that this form of drug-taking is known as volatile substance abuse (VSA).
Students were more likely to have encountered more ‘traditional’ illicit substances like cannabis, MDMA and cocaine– and yet, we found that 59% of students (out of a sample of 332) had not taken an illicit drug. Through their conversations with students, WNFO staff were made aware of a small number of people who were using drugs without much knowledge of their effects or what constituted a safe dose. When it comes to MDMA/ecstasy, this can put people in a vulnerable position as this drug has gotten particularly potent in recent years. In 2018, WNFO is dedicated to raising awareness around MDMA – even if a person doesn’t take drugs, they should stay informed, so they can respond to an emergency or help their peers make informed decisions themselves.
Surveys revealed that ‘peer pressure’ was a difficult term to define for many students, who expressed varied perceptions of the intended meaning. Most interpreted the question situationally (for example, a friend who pressures them to try a cannabis joint), but failed to recognise other forms of peer pressure, like being made to feel uncool for not using drugs, or feeling overpowered by a friend who tells them what they should do with their life. This is understandable since many young people have not had social emotional education at school when it comes to understanding peer pressure, how to be assertive and resilient to new life challenges.
Out of 342 students roughly 24% said “at some point in their life they felt under pressure to conform.” This is a relatively low figure considering many more pressures Gen Z faces, not least navigating new digital technologies alongside the usual ups and downs of adolescence. In 2018, WNFO is eager to run a digital media campaign on peer pressure to unpick stigma around feeling pressured so to encourage others to have greater emotional empathy.
WNFO identified several knowledge gaps around different substances and their effects, which is unsurprising as drug education is not a statutory requirement in English and Welsh schools; however, this does not mean that educators should not be forthright in teaching students the life skills they need to be confident in resisting peer pressure.
Awareness stalls at universities and colleges provide WNFO valuable data on student experiences, so we want to thank all education providers who worked with us in 2017. WNFO is dedicated to reaching more students in 2018 through awareness stalls, projects and workshops. Education providers can now book an awareness stall or discuss other projects with WNFO by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org