The factors involved in shaping the attitudes of health and social care students toward illicit drug use: A mixed method study

First published: 09/05/2019 | Last updated: May 20th, 2019

Reports in existing literature have consistently indicated that health and social care professionals may hold moralistic or stereotypical views of illicit drug users. Differences in attitudes have been identified when considering personal attributes or when comparing different groups of professionals. Clearly professional education has a role in addressing negative attitudes as such attitudes may influence the care provided to service users.

The study outlined in this abstract aimed to identify the factors influencing the pre-existing attitudes of clinical psychology trainees, health and social care, social work, midwifery and nursing students toward illicit drug use. A mixed-method design was adopted with students completing an anonymous questionnaire at the start of their course (N=311) and at the end of their first year (N=267). This questionnaire measured the students’ attitudes and collected data on a range of variables identified in existing literature as significant in terms of attitudes to illicit drugs. Semi-structured interviews were also conducted with volunteers, who had completed the questionnaires (n=25). Data from the questionnaires were analysed by comparing group means and key themes were identified and explored in the qualitative date.

Results found that students who self-reported personal use of illicit drugs or were aware of use by family/friends expressed more positive attitudes. Clear differences were found between the students grouped by chosen profession and minimal changes in attitudes were detected over the first year of training.

The study highlights the need for a specific focus on illicit drug use within curricula, as simply entering professional education appears insufficient in addressing negative attitudes. However, any approach aimed at improving attitudes needs to acknowledge the students’ current knowledge and previous experiences linked to illicit drug use. Differences between professional groups support the view that interprofessional education may also have the potential to improve attitudes.

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Dr Martyn Harling