Hungarians schools struggle to provide certified drug prevention programs

April 11, 2015

top-rendor-drog-20150203101402-740x400Drug prevention undertaken by the National Public Health and Medical Service and the police

Successful drug prevention is more than just a police officer in front of a blackboard talking about the harms of the different drugs. Only long-term programs can be successful but they are expensive and the schools have no money. Civil organisations would do it for free but they hardly get any state support. Furthermore the government requires strict professional conditions for drug prevention efforts in schools even though nobody checks these conditions.  For this reason school directors simply ask for the assistance of the health visitor next door.  At least she does her job for free.

“In the last two years there were only two times when a police officer popped in to talk about this issue, but it was quiet tacky and too general,” said a teacher at a rural high school. “Kids have more knowledge on this issue than the officers.” In her opinion the classic prevention does not work any more.

“The school is in deep shit.  It is impossible to prevent the kids from trying out drugs. Maybe it works in the less problematic schools but definitely not in places like this, where I teach.”

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union recently wrote about the catastrophic shape of school drug prevention.  Only a few organizations can deal with this question and school directors even let the Scientologists come to hold lectures. One of the directors of an elementary school complained that he had no chance to choose and therefore he had to turn to religious groups. “The drug negotiation forum is hardly working, there are no programs to apply for and there are no organizations offering prevention lectures,” he said.

The reason for the very few available civil drug prevention programs is an ordinance from 2012. Only with the professional recommendation issued by the National Health Improvement Institute (OEFI) can lectures be held in schools about drug prevention. However according to civil groups it is very difficult to obtain this license. The conditions are strict: in 2014 only nine programs were approved. The Drug Prevention Workgroup at the southern Hungarian city of Pécs recently succeeded and received the recommendation on appeal, their first application having failed.

According to Zsolt Máté, coordinator of the Drug Prevention Workgroup, school directors do not really care about the fact that only the recommended drug prevention programs can be used. Most of them are happy if someone goes there and holds the lecture. According to the expert there are only 14 recommended organizations in Hungary. Officially these should cover the whole school drug prevention programs in the country but this is impossible. In Baranya county this workgroup is the only one authorized to hold lectures on the subject.

However obtaining the recommendation in itself is worthless. If they do not apply for programs and cannot win money for their activity, they cannot go to schools to hold lectures. The reason is that neither the Drug Prevention Workgroup nor the schools have money for this purpose. Their 10-month program costs more than HUF 2 million. The program includes transportation costs, the cost of training the teachers and the wage of the trainers as well. One or two lessons can be given even for free.  However, according to Máté the programs only make sense and are effective if the long-term programs are built on each other.

“There is total confusion and underpayment. The government communicates that lots of money goes for drug prevention but there is no trace of it. While true that many programs promote drug prevention activity, the level of their professional activity is questionable.  Despite good intentions, sometimes what a program offers has no positive effect at all.  Sometimes at best there  is no proof of its effectivity.”

According to the NGOs, setting the professional standards is not a problem. It has been demanding for quite a while to determine who could hold drug prevention lectures in schools. The problem is that obtaining certification requires lots of work and energy. This is why a number of NGOs decided not to apply for certification because they do not have the capacity.  Those who obtained certification are faced with the problem of the huge disparity between the cost of certification in terms of time and money and the fees they get for their programs, said Erika Barna, board member of the Association of the Hungarian Drug Prevention and Harm Reduction Organization (MADÁSZSZ).

plakat_pdf_02

“Live without drugs” drug prevention leaflet from the police of the city of Kazincbarcika

In her opinion the present system is totally blurry. The control does not exist, it is not even known if someone checks if a certain program bears the necessary recommendation or not.  Nor is it clear what sanctions are applied if someone holds a lecture without the recommendation. According to Barna if everyone followed the regulation the school drug prevention would be over on a country level. The present chaos is marked by the recent case when the Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Centre (KLIK) itself offered a drug prevention program to the school director which is not among the recommended ones.

“There is a vacuum in the system and therefore such organizations could also penetrate to schools like the Scientologists,” Barna said. “They have money, they do not have to wait for other sources. They also have strong marketing activity and strong ideological goals. On the other hand, professionally proper and correct programs are waiting for the recommendation or for money.”

In regular contact with teachers, Barna says there is a strong demand for proper programs. Also she understands that it is much cheaper to ask the health visitor or the police officer to hold a short lecture and nothing else. In her opinion, the schools are awfully tired.  They must struggle with many problems and they are dependent on KLIK.  The last thing they want to deal with is someone coming to hold a lecture on drug prevention. But because of the above reasons in most of the schools the issue comes to the surface if there is a certain case of drug use. For example, if a child took drugs and had to be taken to the hospital, or the parents informed the school that someone is dealing drugs in the school, then the school wants someone immediately to talk about the drug issue with the kids.

“These days it is not effective if someone goes to a classroom and speaks about the different drugs and their harms. Peer assistance, drama games and improving self-knowledge are necessary. Only the continuous activity and programs make sense. Drug prevention is not something that can be applied quickly when something is already suspicious in the school.”

In a high school in the northeastern city of Miskolc the health visitor and the ex-police officer working for them as a crime prevention consultant are asked to hold the lectures. And the school is satisfied with them. Earlier the director received many letters from people wanting to hold drug prevention lectures but they have always preferred the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (ÁNTSZ) over private companies. The director said that they have never contracted with private companies, never paid for these kinds of services, and they do not have money for it.  Nor would KLIK provide money for this purpose, “when they hardly provide money for the basic tasks”.

According to civil groups it is not the best solution if ex-police speak about drugs to the kids. What if a kid confesses that he or she tried drugs? Is it the official obligation of the ex-officer to report the child or to initiate an investigation within the school? Health visitors are very important actors in the schools but the same questions come up: what knowledge and practice do they have on addictology, how up to date are they regarding the newest drugs and how useful are the answers they can give to the children?

“We have a cooperation agreement with the district and they provide these lectures for free of charge,” a director of a Budapest high school said. “Last year we had two occasions.” Furthermore, there is a school doctor and a health visitor and they hold a so-called health day in the school every year. On these events they have a conversation about alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases and drug prevention.

“I receive many e-mails from people who would like to come and hold lectures and not only regarding the drug issue,” the director said. “In my opinion it is only a comfortable and cheap defense to say that no one wants to do it, so the directors are forced to turn to the Scientologists. I have been doing this job for thirty years and there is always a way to find organizations we can cooperate with. If someone says it is not possible, he or she just did not dig deep enough”.