Amy Winehouse Foundation Helps Young People Understand Addiction

By Zachary Siegel 08/03/15

The Amy Winehouse Foundation has taken a novel approach to talking about the dangers of drug abuse.

Amy Winehouse
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Amy Winehouse’s tragic end has been re-inserted into mainstream addiction discourse through a documentary called Amy, which examined her drug abuse that led to her untimely death.

But she didn’t only leave behind tears and soulful music. Since her death in 2011, her legacy lives through charity efforts of the Amy Winehouse Foundation. The charity is dedicated to educating students about addiction and helping prevent drug and alcohol misuse among young people.

The main program of the foundation entails former addicts visiting schools to share their experiences with substance abuse. The Winehouse charity, in partnership with another UK charity called Addaction, aims to reach 250,000 students within the next five years. Just one year into the program, 87 volunteers have been trained and many more are going through the process. Every volunteer has been touched in some way by addiction.

Said to be far more effective than a police officer lecturing children not to do drugs or a First Lady’s campaign to “Just Say No,” bringing in those who have overcome an addiction—who can share their experiences and emotions—will be able to connect with young people on a more substantive level.

Dominic Ruffy, a former heroin user and acting program director of the Amy Winehouse Foundation told The Guardian, “The consistent message they got from people in rehab was that they’d never had any constructive education in school about drugs and alcohol.”

Ruffy explains how their approach differs. “They’d had policemen in. They’d been told, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that’, but nobody had ever gone in and talked to them about their feelings and emotions like we do.”

Such tactics appear to be needed, according to recent reports out of the UK which demonstrate the number of students ostracized from secondary schools because of drug and alcohol problems is rising.

The outcomes of the school program have been studied and do indeed reflect Ruffy’s claims. More than 70% of students who were questioned about their experience of the program believed they were better prepared to manage self-esteem, cope with peer pressure, and avoid impulsive behavior associated with drug use, according to a report conducted by experts from both Harvard and Bath University.

Amy Winehouse’s parents hope that young people can learn from their daughter, that her death will bring some good for future generations.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.