Analysing Australian drug education

In the most recent refereed journal article to emerge from Dr Adrian Farrugia’s NDRI-based PhD research, he and his co-author Professor Suzanne Fraser argue that Australian drug education’s use of neuroscientific accounts of drug effects limits its potential to articulate harm-reducing realities and sensitivities for young people. Now in press with BioSocieties, ‘Young brains at risk: Co-constituting youth and addiction in neuroscience-informed Australian drug education’, identifies a co-constitutive relationship between the neuroscience of addiction as a ‘brain disease’ and youth as a stage of brain development, and tracks how it emerges specifically in Australian drug education materials. They ask whether the influence of neuroscience on understandings of regular drug consumption and young people’s life courses results in education that is likely to reduce drug-related harm. Overall they argue that:

As drug education stands […] its mobilisations of the neuroscience of youth and addiction limit its potential to articulate harm-reducing realities and sensitivities. (2017, p. 18)

This article is the latest in a series of publications emerging out Adrian Farrugia’s recently completed PhD research. In this research, Adrian asks whether the ways young people, their social lives and their drug consumption are presented in Australian drug education texts has the potential to produce harm. Writing with SSAC colleagues (Farrugia & Fraser, 2017; Farrugia, Seear & Fraser, in press), and alone (Farrugia, 2014, 2017) Adrian has consistently identified troubling depictions of young people and of alcohol and other drug consumption in Australian drug education texts. For example, his analysis of gender in these texts found gendered double standards that constitute young women’s alcohol and other drug consumption as damaging to their standing as proper feminine subjects (Farrugia, 2017). In his analysis of youth consumption and sociality in these texts he argued that the emphasis on distress and damaged mental health as causes and effects of consumption may limit rather than enhance young people’s capacity to reduce harm (Farrugia, 2014). A further analysis, based on interviews with young men, suggests that the rigid notions of health and drug use used in drug education may create scepticism about their accuracy and intentions (Farrugia & Fraser, 2016). Overall, Adrian’s research emphasises the need for more thought on the ethics and politics of Australian drug education. This, he argues, may require new understandings of ‘effective’ drug education that move beyond a primary focus on reducing consumption, providing ‘information’ about alcohol and other drug use risks and simplistic accounts of ‘drug-related’ harms. As Adrian explains,

Drug education texts have rarely been subjected to this kind of socially orientated scrutiny. This is a significant issue because the kinds of assumptions about young people, alcohol and other drugs, gender and even health that appear in these texts may contribute to the very harms they’re designed to address.

Adrian continues his interest in health promotion in his role as Research Associate for SSAC’s new ARC funded study on take-home naloxone.

Publications stemming from Adrian’s research on drug education:

Farrugia, A. and Fraser, S. Young brains at risk: Co-constituting youth and addiction in neuroscience-informed Australian drug education. Published online ahead of print in Biosocieties.

Farrugia, A., Seear, K. and Fraser, S. Authentic advice for authentic problems? Legal information in Australian classroom drug education. Accepted for publication in Addiction Research & Theory.

Farrugia, A. (2017). Gender, reputation and regret: the ontological politics of Australian drug education. Gender and Education, 29, (3), pp. 281-298.

Farrugia, A. and Fraser, S. (2016). Science and scepticism: Drug information, young men and counterpublic health. Published online ahead of print in Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine. 

Farrugia, A. (2014). Assembling the dominant accounts of youth drug use in Australian harm reduction drug education. International Journal of Drug Policy, 24, (4), pp. 663-672.

For a full list of Adrian’s publications and projects, click here.