In Kerala, peer educators in schools to help fight against drugs

The programme is being piloted in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Idukki, Ernakulam, Malappuram and Kozhikode districts. (image for representational purposes)   | Photo Credit: K. Ragesh

A student of a prominent higher secondary school in Ernakulam in Kerala recently finished five “very useful” sessions on peer education training as part of a National Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction.

The one-hour long online sessions, he says, aided his understanding of the deleterious effects of drug abuse on the mind and the body. More importantly, he learnt how to look out for signs of drug abuse among fellow students, listen to them and motivate them to seek help. Rather than expose their secret, the attempt is to help them get support, says the peer educator volunteer.

The peer education training programme is being implemented in Kerala by the Social Justice Department in collaboration with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, in the wake of increase in drug abuse, particularly among adolescents.

The programme is being piloted in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Idukki, Ernakulam, Malappuram and Kozhikode districts. A total of 600 students are trained in 12 batches of 50 students each. The sessions are led by mental health professionals. With focus on drug abuse prevention rather than rehabilitation, the programme’s aim is to reduce the demand for and use of drugs in school settings.

Bino Thomas, assistant professor at NIMHANS, says conventional strategies such as impressing on children the impact of drug abuse have had limited success. There is a need to adopt other methods such as peer education, an internationally recognised approach, to reduce students’ drug use rates.

Skill-based programme

After consultations with students who had stopped using drugs, school counsellors and teachers, it was felt that besides sensitisation and awareness generation, a skill-based training programme that empowers a student to identify other students who use drugs, those who are vulnerable to drug abuse or even silent users by closely observing them for various indicators, was needed.

The student, or rather the peer educator, will then motivate the drug users to kick the habit and seek help. A friendly approach is the key, even if the drug users refuse to heed counsel or accept that they actually need help, he pointed out.

“The peer educators are not counsellors, they are facilitators who will observe and identify drug users, empathise and provide support and persuade them to seek help from school counsellors or the police or the Excise department,” says Mr. Thomas.

Personal safety

They are also trained in personal safety so that they do not fall into any potential traps. Besides looking out for signs of drug abuse, peer educators are taught to be on the lookout for behavioural changes in students, development issues, learning disabilities and so on in order to provide them suitable help, he says.

The programme has been designed keeping in mind the limitations posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though opportunities may be limited, if the peer educator volunteers get to know about a classmate or friend who is using drugs or hear about it from their parents or neighbours, they can intervene.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 3:55:15 AM |

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