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Does the drug education movement mark a new stage of complicity?

Is drug education equivalent to endorsement, or have we just gone too far? Source: iStock, via DrugAbuse.com)
Or do we deserve to be safe regardless of our habits?

By Hannah Newberry

Drugs have been stigmatised from day one – this isn’t necessarily unjustified, but neither has it ever been enough to prevent the popularity of drug use over the years. We’ve lost countless icons and celebrities to drug addiction. We’ve been shaken to the core by Requiem for a Dream, rooted for Renton in Trainspotting and laughed our socks off at McAvoy’s grotesque downward spiral in Filth. Drugs are risky and readily available, but I would not argue for one second that we glamorise them too much no matter how widespread the discussion on them may seem – they are a part of our culture, as embarrassing as that is (we’ve all seen Skins). Given the recent news headlines regarding drug education and testing, I feel that it’s a far more logistical approach than suppressing vital information that even non-drug users could use to save a life.

The recent movements that have sparked much debate, particularly on Twitter, includes that night clubs have started offering advice to people via posters in toilets, recommending steps they should take if they are doing drugs to minimise risk. Additionally, some parts of England have police-supported drug testing for Class A substances, where you can find out if your sample is too potent or cut with an ambiguous component that could have life-threatening implications. Some feel that this is a promising step forward, while others feel we have simply normalised drug use too far, and the ‘shock’ factor that scares young people away from doing drugs is being undermined every time we publicise ‘tips’ for safe drug taking any further.

The Department for Education and Employment accepted that there is ‘no conceivable approach [to] stamp out drug-taking altogether’. So instead of acting as if we’re searching for a means to an end, why don’t we establish safety first? I argue that this is the best attitude to have, simply because alternative approaches are ineffective and more metaphorical than they are useful. Being searched at the doors of Pryzm, having threats of being banned from Clwb Ifor Bach, seeing police cars pull up outside your local? None of it is enough to stop the evident drug use we see on our own front door step in Cardiff, so this is definitely something that could be implemented and coincide with the wonders and toxicity of the city life we endure with our degree.

Does anybody really believe that a ‘shock / scare’ approach would be worth endorsing to a sea of rebellious, stressed out teenagers? By saying that if you take drugs, you’ll either die or become an addict for the rest of your life? It simply doesn’t work. We are curious, easily enticed and sometimes, plain self-destructive. I could even go as far to say that people who take drugs as a form of self harm or to cause damage to themselves would be more intrigued than they would through standardised education. The fear approach cannot manifest itself when everyone knows someone who takes drugs frequently without evident harm. We would be trying to cast a veil over an image that everyone can already clearly see exists.

There is a tactical way to educate people – and I don’t believe education is equal to endorsing recreational drugs. There is no stronger opinion than one that’s independent and informed. Trying to cull proactive discussion and encouraging the idea of ‘druggie’ stereotypes is not only morally questionable but also limits the accessibility of knowledge we have available to us. No one is more likely to go against your wishes than someone who feels patronised.

The aim here is to reduce drug-related deaths, and I can say from my own viewpoint that as someone who has never done drugs, nor wishes to try them, there is nothing about the education that makes me want to give it a go. It just makes me thankful that my friends are being looked out for, regardless of the decisions they make.

There is support available in Cardiff University provided by Taith Cymru. They offer one-to-one drop in sessions for students on the first Tuesday of every month. These are between 5 and 7pm at 50 Park Place.

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