15/01/2013 11:55 GMT | Updated 17/03/2013 05:12 GMT

Drug Culture - It Needs to Be Taught

I remember precisely two instances of 'drugs education' from school. One involved a plastic tray of different coloured pills and powders and was part of a confusing PHSE day that began with sex education and ended with a short course in interpretive dance, and the other was watching a short film about that one girl that took MDMA and drank herself to death. That's all I remember because that's all there was.

Quite frankly, the state of drugs education in schools is appalling. Students are given the odd lecture on the dangers of cannabis and warned that it will ruin their lives and futures should they succumb to such sinful habits, but little more than that. Like me, many will be able to count the scarce number of occasions they were given information on one hand, and I'd bet even fewer could name a time when the content that was provided wasn't meagre and useless. Coupled with the fact that the 'Talk To Frank' site looks more like a menu than anything truly resembling a cautionary tale, it can be nigh-on impossible for young people to build up any practical knowledge on the matter whilst still at school.

And practical knowledge is exactly what they need. Like traditionalists who claim that anything but abstinence-only sex education is more or less an incitement for teenagers to go at it like rabbits, an alarming number of people seem to hold the opinion that informing students about drugs and their various effects is tantamount to advocating them. This, of course, is nonsense. Although newspapers and Michael Gove's perpetually worried-looking expression would have us believe otherwise, schools are not merely there to appear in exams league tables once a year; they're a preparation for life. A lot of what you learn in the classroom ends up staying there post-education, particularly for those who go on to do a degree in one specific subject. I can't tell you one time I've thought about the water cycle since embarking upon my studies post-secondary school. Much to my teachers' chagrin, the chief causes of the Great Depression haven't crossed my mind once. But the knowledge that I could have used - that everybody under the age of 18 could use now - is how to cope with the reality of drugs.

It might not be as palatable to parents as learning about French vocabulary, but once you get to the age of 16 or so, learning not just about the side-effects of recreational drugs but what action to take if it all goes wrong is paramount. It's statistically likely that one in five teenagers between 16 and 18 will have experimented with drugs, and the older they get, the more that number rises. Knowing how to cope with someone having a bad trip or how to tell when something is cut with another, more dangerous product shouldn't have to be stuff that kids pick up through experience. Speaking as someone from a rural area with two teenage deaths from drugs in the run-up to Christmas, I am willing to go out on a limb and assure the government that this information could save lives.

To some, it might seem like extreme measures to teach young people to regulate their water intake when on certain drugs or to be able to confidently assure someone on ketamine that they will be able to move their limbs again soon. Many would argue that the knowledge of how to avoid common drug-related injuries would result in teenagers going out and using it to their advantage, safety instructions having removed a great deal of the fear factor schools instil in them, but I truly don't believe this to be the case. It's fairly well-documented in today's generation and more or less every single one preceding it since the sixties that so long as recreational drugs are available, they will be used. Better to know and not need than to need and not know.

In an age where many schools may well be converting to academies in the near future, the likelihood of a universal drugs curriculum seems far out of reach. Soon the educational content of many institutions will be in their own hands, meaning that a 'just say no' tactic may well be the only guidance for a great deal of students. Educators: I implore you. Don't let drugs solely be the topic of after-school specials. Teach your pupils how to say no, sure; but teach them how to survive if they do say yes.