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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
In my other life I work as a magistrate in an inner city in the North West of the UK. A great deal of the petty crime we have to deal with is drugs related. Indeed the local police have told us that up to 30 per cent of people in the cells at any one time will have tested positive for opiates. They also say that they know when a new shipment of drugs hits the streets because the percentage of inmates testing positive rises to over 60 per cent. In court we rarely come across geriatric junkies, by the time most people get into their middle years they have either weaned themselves off the drugs, or they are dead! The consumption of illegal substances, for whatever reason, is a young persons’ game and in this review we look at web sites that might help young people avoid the temptations of illegal drug use.
FRANK is a UK government sponsored web site and from its appearance it would seem to be aimed quite firmly at young people. Starting with an A-Z of whats what in the pharmacological cornucopia that is street drugs this web site has comprehensive information on every illegal drug you are likely to have heard of, and a lot more that I guarantee you will never have come across. Like the name of the web site, the format for the presentation of content is very frank. For each drug listed,descriptions of the effects are provided, the liklihood of getting addicted, the punishments for being caught using or supplying the drug, how the drugs are used, what it will cost, and what are the likely risks. In fact the reader is told everything about the drug except where to get it. Some people will frown on this approach, arguing that the web site teaches young people what drugs are like and how to use them. To some extent this is true, but anything less than this “frank” approach would surely be seen as patronsiing by many young people.
As well as providing information on different types of drugs, the web site also hosts a forum so that young people can share experiences and exchange views on drugs and related issues. A novel feature of this web site is the “Drugs Mugs” facility. Here the user can upload a picture of themselves, face only, and then look at what the ravages of crystal meth will do; be warned it is not pretty! There is also a Frank “bot”, a figure that can be added to the users MSN messenger service and who will answer any drug related queries via instant onscreen text messages. For people who want a quick response and more of a personal touch than can be provided with email, this feature will be particularly attractive.
This is an interesting web site on many levels. Its design will appeal to young people, it has rich content that will answer most queries, and some of its more novel functions are interesting and worthwhile.
This web site describes itself as … “Ireland’s independent health website, designed to offer users a comprehensive yet easy to use online source of medical and healthcare information and up-to-the-minute health news.” It is funded mainly by an Irish publishing company, MedMedia, and appears to have won a number of awards for its web based health information. The section dealing with drugs and young people is relatively limited but for a young person, or their parents, who want some quick answers, the content will be of some use. Under the heading of “What is a drug?” the reader will find a rather nondescript paragraph explaining, in very general terms, what illegal substances like heroin and ecstasy actually do. The language and style of this web site clearly indicates that its main readers are intended to be parents and adults rather than young people themselves. Probably the best section in this web site is where parents can seek advice on what to do if they find their children are experimenting with drugs. The advice given is practical but never preaching and parents faced with these sorts of problems will find something of value in this section.
There are comprehensive links to “Related Content” though much of this is past its sell-by date. Not many people will find a warning about contaminated heroin from November 2001, very useful in November 2007! Overall, parents may find this web site of interest; young people themselves probably won’t give it a second glance.
Australian Drug Foundationwww.adf.org.au/
The Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) is a non-government, not-for-profit organisation that was founded 45 years ago and has accumulated a wealth of experience in the alcohol and drug health education field. The ADF also has a research arm, the Centre for Youth Drug Studies, which has as its aim the development of drug policy and prevention programmes. The ADF web site has a number of sub sections but the most relevant here is that labelled “DrugsInfo”. This section describes itself a s a clearing house for all things drug related and although it might seem rather overwhelming for the first time user, there is a great deal of useful information in this web site. A good starting point is the drop down menu of all the drugs mentioned in the web site. Beginning with alcohol and ending with tobacco the list also includes a few items we probably wouldn’t find in a UK or North American web site, namely betel nut and kava. For each of the drugs listed a page of information is presented which includes details of what the drug is and what effects it has. The likelihood of tolerance and dependency is mentioned, as are treatment options. Interestingly the effects of taking the drug during pregnancy and breastfeeding are also discussed. Finally some first aid advice is given on how to deal with an overdose.
Although young people will find content that is of interest in this web site, it is probably fair to say that the main users are likely to be health education professionals and possibly parents. For professionals there are a number of resources that can be downloaded, some have a cost involved, others are available free of charge. They tend to be written from an Australian perspective, but health education professionals from other countries will find them useful as well.
National Institute on Drug Abusewww.nida.nih.gov/
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a component of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The NIDA web site is a comprehensive range of resources designed for academics, researchers, practitioners, parents and their children. In this review we will focus on the section developed for young people. The students and young people part of the web site is designed to reflect the USA education system so it is divided into two main sections, one for Elementary School and the other for Middle and High School. The materials available for the youngest children deal with the brain and how it works. Children learn about medicines and drugs and the effects they may have on the brain and the body. If teachers feel their pupils are ready then there is also information on illegal drugs with cocaine and marijuana being featured. For older children in Elementary school, topics covered include, stimulants, addictions, alcohol and inhalants. The web site only provides outlines of the materials available, but there are links through which PDF files of the full content can be accessed. Although designed to be used by young people with their teachers or parents, older children could use these resources independently. For the Middle and High School children the information is provided via four links. The first deals entirely with marijuana, since this is the most commonly used drug in the United States. There is a great deal of information available and it can be accessed from the web site or by downloading the document in the form of a booklet. Although aimed at American school children the content is such that children from other parts of the world would also find it of interest.
The next part of the Middle and High School section is presented as science education and deals with the effects of drugs on the brain. This is a follow-on from the materials presented at Elementary level and it includes topics on alcohol and nicotine as well as prescription and illegal drugs. The other two parts of the Middle and High school sections are essentially links to other web sites where similar information has been located for different age groups.
Finally, for older children, their parents, teachers and health education professionals, a link is provided to a “Drugs of Abuse Information” resource. This is a list of 12 of the most common drugs where detailed information concerning the properties and dangers of the particular drug are described. Also linked to these descriptions are a group of NIDA’s featured publications, including leaflets, research reports and what are called InfoFacts, basically fact-sheets for each of the drugs discussed.
As you would expect from a web site funded by the United States government, design standards are high and quality of the content is excellent. Perhaps the main criticism would be that compared with FRANK (see above), this web site lacks “street credibility”. It is essentially a health education web site with the emphasis being on education and this may put off a lot of young people. As a resource for adults to use with young people, it is highly recommended.