How Iceland could help curb Aussie kids’ drug use

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An Icelandic anti-drug program that has seen teen drug use dramatically decline will be trialled in 10 sites across Australia.

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A revolutionary program that helped dramatically lower Iceland's youth drug use will be rolled out across Australia.

Using an evidence-based drug intervention model, Iceland went from having one of the highest youth drug and alcohol rates in Europe to amongst the lowest.

The model started in the 1990s and has grown to become Planet Youth. It combines global research findings and local observations to determine factors contributing to drug use in young people. Unlike most drug prevention modelling, Planet Youth uses a community-based approach to develop targeted drug solutions, programs and policy.

Between 1998 and 2018, the percentage of Iceland's Year 10 students who had been drunk in the past 30 days fell from 42 percent to 5 per cent. Daily cigarette smokers in the same age group dropped from 23 per cent to 2 per cent. And the number of Year 10 students who used cannabis once or more in their lifetime declined from 17 percent to 6 percent.

Planet Youth director Jón Sigfússon said it's not magic, it's logic.

"We speak to children about their lives and the environment around them. We feed that information back to stakeholders, immediately, on a local level," he told The Feed. 

That information informs decisions made by stakeholders in the community, from social workers to politicians.

The Feed
Youth drug use has declined dramatically in Iceland.
The Feed

Mr Sigfússon said his colleagues often wonder why this model hasn't been intuitively employed by more services around the globe.

"Sometimes we ask ourselves, why isn't everyone just doing this?" he said.

But more countries are catching on, with the model being used in nearly 100 communities in 24 different countries. The nature of the program means it's easily adapted to different contexts.

"It always has to be culturally adapted, not adopted. We look at the local realities," Mr Sigfússon said.

"We have been working in cultures and cities with a totally different reality to Iceland, and it is working."

Australia is next on the list.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation is working with the Planet Youth team to trial the approach in 10 different sites.

It will be rolled out through the existing Local Drug Action Team Program, which is funded under the Australian Government's National Ice Action Strategy and managed by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

The model will be trialled across the following sites over two-and-a-half years:

            • Limestone Coast (SA)
            • Murray Bridge (SA)
            • Glenorchy (TAS)
            • Huon Valley (TAS)
            • Hepburn (VIC)
            • Northern Mallee (VIC)
            • Wycheproof/Sea Lake (VIC)
            • Blue Mountains (NSW)
            • Lithgow (NSW)
            • Marrickville (NSW)

Alcohol and Drug Foundation chief executive Dr Erin Lalor said this is a long-term investment in communities.

"The Planet Youth trial in Australia will be tailored to the unique needs of the different communities in the pilot sites," Dr Lalor added.

"Planet Youth shows that long-term investment in community-led prevention leads to significant reductions in alcohol and other drug use."