Preventing alcohol harm: Early results from a cluster randomised, controlled trial in Victoria, Australia of comprehensive harm minimisation school drug education
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Exercise and Health Sciences
Background: In Australia, the burden of alcohol-attributable harm falls most heavily on young people. Prevention is important, and schools have long been seen as appropriate settings for pre-emptive interventions with this high risk group. This paper evaluates the effectiveness, in relation to alcohol harm prevention, of the Drug Education in Victorian Schools (DEVS) programme, nine months after implementation. This intervention dealt with both licit and illicit drugs, employed a harm minimisation approach that incorporated interactive, skill based, teaching methods and capitalised on parental influence through home activities. Methods: A cluster randomised, controlled trial of the first ten lessons of the DEVS drug education programme was conducted with year eight students, aged 13-14 years. Twenty-one secondary schools in Victoria, Australia were randomly allocated to receive the DEVS programme (14 schools, n=1163) or the drug education usually provided by their schools (7 schools, n=589). Self-reported changes were measured in relation to: knowledge and attitudes, communication with parents, drug education lessons remembered, proportion of drinkers, alcohol consumption (quantity multiplied by frequency), proportion of student drinkers engaging in risky consumption, and the number of harms experienced as a result of alcohol consumption. Results: In comparison to the controls, there was a significantly greater increase in the intervention students' knowledge about drugs, including alcohol (p≤. 0.001); there was a significant change in their level of communication with parents about alcohol (p=0.037); they recalled receiving significantly more alcohol education (p<. 0.001); their alcohol consumption increased significantly less (p=0.011); and they experienced a lesser increase in harms associated with their drinking (p≤. 0.001). There were no significant differences between the two study groups in relation to changes in attitudes towards alcohol or in the proportion of drinkers or risky drinkers. There was, however, a notable trend of less consumption by risky drinkers in the intervention group. Conclusions: A comprehensive, harm minimisation focused school drug education programme is effective in increasing general drug knowledge, and reducing alcohol consumption and harm.