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Substance use and misuse

Legal and illegal drugs can cause problems in Scouting. They raise a number of issues for both young people and adult leaders.

The guidance below is a general guide to dealing with substance abuse and misuse in a Scouting environment.

If you suspect that a young person or adult is in possession of illegal drugs then you must contact the police and then follow the reporting procedures. If you are concerned that a young person or adult's behaviour is being affected by substance misuse, you should follow the Yellow Card ('Young People First') reporting procedures.

Illegal drugs

Under UK law it is a crime to possess, deal or produce what is termed an illegal drug. The penalties depend on which drug and the amount you have, and whether you are also involved in dealing or producing the drug. The most severe penalty can be an unlimited fine and life in prison.

You may be charged with possessing an illegal substance if you're caught with drugs, whether they're yours or not.

If you're under 18, the police are allowed to tell your parent, guardian or carer that you've been caught with drugs.

Legal Highs

Just because a drug is classed as legal does not mean it is safe. So-called 'legal highs' can produce the same harmful effects as illegal drugs; they are termed 'legal' simply because they are not yet covered by legislation such as the misuse of drugs act.

It is becoming ever more apparent that 'legal highs' are far from risk free and can have similar health hazards to drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and speed.

Like all illegal drugs, the risks associated with 'legal highs' can include reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, coma, seizures and death. These risks can be increased if used in conjunction with alcohol and other drugs.

It is quite probable that drugs purchased as a 'legal high' may in fact contain substances that are in reality illegal to posses. The most commonly-found drug that can be contained in a legal high is in fact a class B drug.

Over the counter drugs and prescription drugs

Many people use over the counter drugs (OTC) and prescription drugs safely and responsibly, but a few may become dependent or addicted to the drugs that were meant to help them.    

People often think that prescription and OTC drugs are safer than illegal drugs, but that's only true when they are taken exactly as prescribed and for the purpose intended. When abused, prescription and OTC drugs can be addictive and put abusers at risk of adverse health effects, including organ damage, psychotic conditions and overdose.

A range of resources are available to help leaders, commissioners, trainers and parents find out more about legal and illegal drugs.

Always read publications or watch videos before using them with young people. This will enable you to check that they are suitable for your target audience and prepare you for potential questions.

Where to get help

Your first port of call should be your local health promotion centre. Ask your local NHS Trust for contact details or search online. Centres stock booklets and leaflets and many of them are free. Several also have loan copies of audio-visual items, charts and drug cases.

Then talk to your local drug agency. They too have informative leaflets. They will often be able to provide a speaker to come and talk to your young people.

Yellow Card

Our code of practice (also known as the Yellow card) sets out guidance for all adults in Scouts

Read the Yellow Card
Where to get help
  • Talk to Frank
    A national drug education service jointly established by the Department of Health and the Home Office.
    Telephone: 0800 77 66 00
  • NHS 
    Official website of the National Health Service.