National Drugs and Alcohol Education Conference 2023

On June 21 we cohosted the National Drugs and Alcohol Education Conference 2023 alongside the Alcohol Education Trust at Newcastle University. The university’s vice chancellor Professor Chris Day CBE (the honour awarded this year in recognition of his work in health research and treatment) opened proceedings, before an address from keynote speaker Joy Allen, joint lead for drugs and alcohol for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners who looked at how the harms being caused by drugs and alcohol are being tackled at a national and local level.


The 100 or so attendees were then treated to a series of short presentations as follows:

  • Kirsty Blenkins, who works in the Addiction and Inclusion Directorate at the Office of Health Inequalities and Disparities (OHID), and Alice Taylor, who is senior product manger at the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), spoke about developments in young people’s drug use and the support available to them online, with particular mention of the TalktoFrank website.
  • David Regis from the Schools Health Education Unit analysed the latest trends in teen alcohol and substance use, with an emphasis on how this links to their wider health and wellbeing.
  • Kath Woods-Townsend, programme manager at Southampton University’s LifeLab which aims to help young people better understand the science that sits behind health messages, drilled down into vaping, outlining some strategies suggested by students to help tackle what seems to be a growing issue.
  • Julie McCann, from School Improvement Liverpool, described how PSHE needs to be more of a tick box exercise in order to help young people thrive during adolescent and into adulthood.
  • Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, founder and director of the DSM Foundation, laid out the importance of involving parents and caregivers in drugs education.
  • Sally Ingram and Kay Hatton, both of whom are involved in student health and wellbeing services at Newcastle University, ran through some of the issues that can ensue when sixth formers go to university, and suggested some ways in which this transition can be smoothed.
  • Marianne Head, prevention officer at the Children’s Society, reminded attendees to be vigilant to the signs of child criminal exploitation, and the importance of supporting those who may be vulnerable to this.
  • Katya Kowalska from Volteface and UCL PhD student Ashly Fuller laid bare young people’s exposure to drugs on social media, and the risks that this poses.


All speakers also took part in a lively panel discussion and Q&A session, before attendees were invited to attend smaller interactive workshops on topics ranging from effective practice in drugs education, understanding teenage decision making, and child criminal exploitation, to providing education on alcohol and cannabis to students with additional needs or vulnerabilities. All in all a great day, and one that can be tracked through the Twitter live feed which bore the hashtag #aldrugsconf2023.