Hey Kids, Drugs Are Bad

The home secretary has told MPs she was “surprised” and “disappointed” by a drugs adviser likening the dangers of ecstasy to the dangers of horse riding.BBC News: Drugs adviser criticised by Smith

Later in the article the BBC suggest that more than 100 people die per year from horse-riding, and around 30 die from ecstasy.

There were 8,724 alcohol related deaths in the UK in 2007 (see Office of National Statistics). Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any more recent statistics than 2005 for drug related deaths, but in 2005, 176 deaths were attributed to cocaine, 58 to ecstasy and 19 to cannabis use (it’s important to note that ‘attribution’ means that the drug was mentioned: it may or may not have been the direct cause).

Of course, this doesn’t actually tell us the risk involved. In order to know that, we’d need to know how likely is it, if you are a ‘casual’ horse-rider, or a ‘casual’ drug user, that your chosen activity will kill you? Do more people do horse-riding or ecstasy? Which presents the most risk for a casual user?

So alcohol kills nearly 9,000, recreational drug use kills a few hundred. Alcohol is legal, those other drugs are not. People drink-driving were responsible for 460 fatalities in 2007 (total road deaths almost 3000). Yet the continuing message is drugs are bad, kids.

This has been drummed into us every since the days of Zammo in Grange Hill (”just say no”). We have been telling our children — presumably ever since we actually made the things illegal — that drugs are bad. Or, as Bill Hicks once said, it’s okay to drink your drugs, it’s the untaxed ones which are bad for you.

And let’s be honest about this, they may well be bad for you. Regular cannabis use may increase your chances of developing schizophrenia. There is certainly a correlation — although so far as I am aware a causal link has yet to be proven (it could be that people with a higher risk of developing schizophrenia are more likely to use cannabis than the other way around).

But I do not want to encourage people to use drugs. Unfortunately, that appears to be precisely the effect that the government’s campaigns have. People who see their friends taking drugs and enjoying themselves and not messing up their lives with occasional recreational use are likely to distrust any ‘official’ source which just repeats “drugs are bad”.

Certainly there is reason to be wary: one study suggests marijuana use may increase the risk of testicular cancer. And obviously if you take cocaine you’ll get a nose bleed, the middle of your nose will drop out, and you’ll think you are considerably more interesting and cool than you actually are.

But, as Renton says in Trainspotting, people wouldn’t do drugs in the first place if they didn’t get something out of it. And yet when someone tries to make a reasoned, rational comment about it, they are shouted down. Horse riding does kill more people than Ecstasy. So do cars. And alcohol.

And that’s why I used to think that the government’s “talk to frank” was a good idea. Talk to frank purported to be a place where the “kids” could go and find out the truth about drugs. The website itself isn’t too bad — for example if you look up cocaine it will tell you what the effects of it are, how much it is likely to cost and so on, and even that cocaine isn’t so much physically addictive…

…psychological dependence is more of a problem than physical withdrawal symptoms - low moods and feeling very rough soon after stopping can tempt people to take more cokeTalk To Frank: Cocaine

That’s not a problem. That is precisely what drug education should be about. Drug education. The clue is in the second word. Tell people what to expect — tell them to expect the ‘high’ and then they are more likely to believe you when you tell them about the associated risks.

Unfortunately, the TV and bus stop ads are much more along the lines of propaganda (”don’t do cocaine, it will give you a nose bleed and fuck you up” … although I am paraphrasing slightly), and that damages the whole campaign. It gives the impression that Talk To Frank is simply another Don’t Do Drugs propaganda stick and therefore it is damaging to its credibility: if it appears to be one-sided and to have already made up its mind, then people who try drugs and enjoy them (because, shock horror, some people do), will find the whole thing less believable if Talk To Frank doesn’t give the impression that some people may find an ‘up’ side.

As the book Risk states:

In 1995, the World Health Organisation completed what it touted as ‘the largest global study on cocaine use ever undertaken’ Among its findings: ‘Occasional cocaine use,’ not intensive or compulsive consumption, is ‘the most typical pattern of cocaine use’ and ‘occasional cocaine use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social problems’Risk, p142, Dan Gardner

Yet this is not the message we hear from the government. The message we hear from the government is Hey Kids, Drugs Are Bad, generally without any mention that plenty of people use them without problems. And that leaves Talk To Frank sounding as credible and interesting as Frank Pickle…

He is so boring that nobody wants to listen to him — even when he wants to discuss something exciting (to his own mind) such as the time he went down to the pub “and they’d completely run out of crisps” or “the time when the milkman was 47 minutes late”.Wikipedia: The Vicar of Dibley (Characters — Frank Pickle)

…because kids will see their friends take drugs. They will know of people who take drugs, enjoy it and come to no harm. Unless the drugs campaigns acknowledge this, they are hamstrung from the start: because then when people encounter drugs for the first time, see people using them and enjoying them, they will then distrust and disbelieve the message about the dangers — and quite rightly, since they were misled about the positive effects…

I am not encouraging people to do drugs: they may bring you harm. However, I believe children and teenagers — including mine, when they reach that age — children would be more likely to make a sensible decision if they are given the plain, unadulterated facts, unadorned by political spin. Kids know when you’re spinning them a line, and by continuing to present the effects of drugs as the black-and-white Drugs Are Bad, we’re reducing the effectiveness of these campaigns.

If we as society don’t tell them the truth about one aspect, why should we expect them to believe us when we want to tell them the other aspects?

10 Responses to “Hey Kids, Drugs Are Bad”

  1. paul canning responds:

    This is why we never hear the sensible side.

    They get shouted down. Or harassed. Remember what happened to Brian Paddick when he tried to change policing priorities.

  2. JackP responds:

    I know that’s what happens. And that’s precisely the problem. Because the media and the politicos are unwilling to let people discuss the issue, because they are unwilling to tolerate anything other than a zero tolerance, drugs are bad, kids approach, they will never win the ‘war on drugs’. They are crippling themselves with their own idiotic propaganda battle. And I suspect half of them know it - they are just scared to say it.

    And it’s the gobsmacking stupidity of it all that annoys me…

  3. paul canning responds:

    The comments on Phillip’s piece are interesting. Most Mail readers want decriminalisation and recognise a failed policy when they see it!

  4. paul canning responds:

    There’s another issue actually, the international agreements they signed up to. I believe this is why marijuana decriminalisation couldn’t happen as it would break some treaty.

  5. Seb Crump responds:

    As some people I know I work for COI who play a part in managing the FRANK campaign, so I’m going to avoid all comment on that for obvious reasons, and all the following view are personal (all mine, I tell you).

    I think that drugs wreck the environment may be a good line to take - people seem to care about that these days, especially the younger more likely to take drugs(?) demographic. I was cheered by the initiative last year http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7413454.stm but it didn’t seem to amount to anything.

    It always amuses me, in a sad way, the hypocritical hippy types who preach about benefits of organic this and eco that, but smoke (really bad environmental and people producers damage), use other recreational drugs, etc.

  6. JackP responds:

    not just the environment — the way in which people are used & abused in the traffic of certain drugs. Alex James’s documentary on cocaine being an excellent example. If it’s repeated, watch it.

    These are all good arguments which could be put forward, but generally aren’t. The consistent argument — “drugs are bad for you, they kill” — is weakened considerably by the fact that certain more dangerous drugs are legal and taxed.

    Personally, I have fairly libertarian views (do what thou wilt — as long as you’re not hurting anyone else) but I am prepared to change my views and would certainly welcome a wider debate in society which doesn’t just have the “I do drugs and I won’t listen to anything bad about them” and “drugs and drug users are all evil” viewpoints…

  7. chartroose responds:

    I agree, Jack. I experimented and I’m still here and my brain still works and I’m not addicted. And I’m tired of hypocrites like Kellogg’s who pull Michael Phelps’ sponsorship while continuing to sell unhealthy processed foods like Cheez-It crackers and Frosted Flakes. Hey dudes, take a few bong hits like ol’ Mikey did. They’re grrrreat!

  8. Mike responds:

    As long as anyone continues to use the umbrella term ‘drugs’ when they mean illegal, recreational drugs we’ll get nowhere.
    Might as well say ‘food’ is bad for you, or ‘gas’ is bad for you…

  9. Matt responds:

    I think the most dangerous drug is completly ignored by the government dihydrogen monoxide is present in the blood of 100% of people who have died ever.

    Joking aside as a libertarian I cannot see why anything which does not effect anybody else. Why is it legal for me to drink myself to death, yet illegal to smoke a joint, which is a substance statistically far less likely to have any ill effects on me, in any case neither of these causes the slightest problem to anybody else, it is my body I should be able to put into it what I like. If I then steal/cause damage or anyting else to either fuel or while under the influence of any substance I have taken that is wrong and should be treated as such.

    One thing which especially annoys me is why the Home Economics Minister bothers to pay for scientific study into the effects and suggested classification if the advice is only followed if the outcome of the study matches her pre-concieved opinion.

  10. Matt responds:

    I cannot see why anything which does not effect anybody else is illegal in a so called free society.

    Note to self do not drink and post on the internet at the same time..

Leave your comments

Enter Your Details:

You may use the following markup in your comments:

<a href=""></a> <strong></strong> <em></em> <blockquote></blockquote>

Enter Your Comments:

|Top | Content|

Twit's Tweets

  • Worn With Pride

    • Titan Internet Hosting
    • SeaBeast Theme Demo
    • Technorati
    • Guild of Accessible Web Designers
    • my Facebook profile

Blog Meta

|Top | FarBar|

Attention: This is the end of the usable page!
The images below are preloaded standbys only.
This is helpful to those with slower Internet connections.