Student substance misuse and early intervention as a preventative measure

John Wicks

John Wicks

on Sep 19, 2022

This article first appeared in Nexus Education in April 2022:

With two high-profile stories hitting the headlines concerning drugs and alcohol in schools, never has it been more important to raise awareness of what can be done to help identify and prevent drug and alcohol use in order to help protect students.

Suspecting that school pupils are misusing drugs and alcohol is not an easy subject to tackle, yet schools are under increasing pressure to support pupils’ wellbeing and have a duty of care to help prevent and reduce drug misuse.

Experimenting with drugs can quickly lead to addiction, which makes early intervention by schools crucial to helping pupils get swift access to support to assist them with accessing appropriate care early on and potentially averting future misuse, into adulthood. Your school will have a drugs policy and a safeguarding lead responsible for implementing that policy at the school. Yet it is the responsibility of all staff members to recognise signs of substance misuse and take appropriate action.

Why it’s so important to act on suspicions

Substance misuse can directly affect the growth and development of children and teens – especially brain development – and frequent use can lead to long-term health problems including sleep disorders, heart disease and high blood pressure. With drugs such as cannabis being more potent, and so called ‘recreational drugs’ being readily available and affordable, drug use amongst school aged children and young adults is becoming more prevalent and a greater risk to their health – not just now but in future health, too. It is the school’s duty of care to act on reasonable suspicions and deal with those suspicions swiftly.

Identifying drug misuse

Raising awareness amongst all staff of the signs of drug taking is vital, as is staying alert to the types of drugs that are most commonly used by school aged children and young adults and the ever-changing drug terminology. Picking up on a slang word used during a conversation amongst students may just be the difference between helping a student or missing the opportunity to provide support.

Where there is reason to suspect drug misuse, schools can consult with local authorities and local police and engage with additional services such as drug dog searches and drug testing. Drug testing laboratories, like Cansford Laboratories in Cardiff, are reporting increasing enquiries for drugs tests amongst secondary school pupils as well as for staff training to help them spot the signs of drug use amongst pupils, in an ever-changing environment.

Drug test options

Going down the drug test route is an option when it’s important to prove that a student has been taking drugs to provide the best support for that student.

Tests available include hair, blood, nail and saliva tests for detecting the use of alcohol and most types of drugs – including NPS (New Psychoactive Substances). The drug test laboratory will advise on which test is most appropriate according to whether there is a need to detect substance use in-the-moment, or whether it has been taken over a long period of time. Test results can be delivered on-site or via laboratory testing, depending on which test is required.

Sample collection can be carried out by DBS-checked collectors from testing laboratories. In addition, some laboratories, such as Cansford Laboratories, will provide training for safeguarding leads so that school staff can collect samples from students and have them tested at the laboratory.

What next?

It is important to keep in sight the reason for undertaking any further investigation; to help educate staff; to provide support for students; but ultimately to take the first step to help prevent future drug misuse. Every school should act appropriately for the benefit of students both immediately and in the long term.


John Wicks

John Wicks

John Wicks is one of the UK's leading experts in drug testing and has been for over 25 years. He is CEO and co-founder of Cansford Laboratories, a drug and alcohol testing laboratory based in South Wales. John is one of the ‘original expert minds’ who alongside co-founder Dr Lolita Tsanaclis, is responsible for bringing hair testing to the UK.

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