Public education in drug use is needed because without it people
lack the skills and knowledge which they require to make informed
decisions about how to use drugs (including when they should not be used)
and to understand the role of drugs in health care, concludes the report
of a DAP informal consultation summarised in this issue. Inappropriate
drug use has serious health and economic consequences, not just for
individuals, but also for the community and for the success of
national drug policies, the report emphasises.
The striking findings of the Ugandan injection study reported on page
11 highlight one particularly urgent focus for public education.
Recognition of the importance of public education in the rational use
of drugs has been slow but is growing.
Although regular readers will be familiar with some of the education work
that has been undertaken in a number of countries and reported in
the Monitor, most is unknown outside the area of activity.
This is because many projects are small scale - often conducted by NGOs -
and are undocumented and unevaluated. It is therefore difficult for
those who would like to make a start, to learn from others'
experience and strategies.
To meet this need the Action Programme is conducting a global survey of
public drug education programmes - both national and local - which will
include a critical assessment of their effectiveness.
The aim is to establish a reference collection of related materials
and strategies, which can be drawn on by programme implementers and
which will be regularly updated.
The knowledge and experience gained will be published and widely disseminated.
The goal is not to replicate one country's materials in another - to be
effective communication materials have to be culturally specific -
but rather to develop practical tools and approaches for programme
development and implementation.
Readers are invited to participate in this survey and will find
further details on page 16.
A critical element in the proper use of prescription drugs is the
communication between doctor and patient. An Australian study, in l986,
which examined doctors' attitudes to and practice in giving information
to patients, and patients' experiences and expectations in receiving
information, concluded that doctors were giving less information than
patients wanted. This led a working group of consumers, health and
legal professionals to formulate guidelines on the provision of
information to patients about proposed treatment and procedures."An open exchange between doctors and patients is crucial" the
guidelines emphasise. "Each brings to the consultation different
information, options and understanding which are important for
making decisions and achieving the patient's well being.
Allowing opportunity for discussion may be as important
for patients as giving and receiving information".
Although written for a developed country, with an advanced
health system, the core principles underlying the Australian
guidelines, are globally valid.
For this reason they are reproduced in this issue.
People who are prescribed drugs and those who purchase them over the
counter have a right to be fully informed about the potential benefits and risks
of the pharmaceutical products they are prescribed or which are available over
the counter and to gain a balanced understanding of appropriate treatment
options. Governments, manufacturers, educators and health professionals
have clear obligations to meet their respective responsibilities to ensure that
the community can acquire the skills and has access to the knowledge to
understand the potential role and hazards of medicine use and individual