Why terrify parents and alienate the young?

4th July 1997 at 01:00
Young people's ignorance of drugs is the result of an adult society that is so terrified of "their child" being the next victim that they have abandoned logical thinking and resorted to grabbing at anything that might provide an answer.

Parents' fear of drug misuse is reflected in a cautious approach to drugs education. Councils are torn between doing nothing - and not being accused of getting it wrong - and the "try anything" approach like inviting the Glasgow-based group Calton Athletic to scare the kids to death.

They also latch on to a range of other approaches including the belief that drug use is now so endemic that the best we can do is to ensure that a harm reduction programme is delivered as effectively as possible.

This last approach, which I support, is at least realistic enough to accept that young people always try the forbidden fruit so they need to know the consequences in order to keep as safe as possible.

While parents happily smoke and drink themselves to death in their thousands they still believe the propaganda delivered by the Scotland Against Drugs campaign set up under the last government. Sadly, parents seem to have been brainwashed into believing that there is an easy solution to a problem that has crept up on us over 30 to 40 years.

They still live in a state of denial clinging to the belief that drugs only happen to others or to families living in deprived and desperate communities. They have not yet understood that the problem has overwhelmed us all, in every community in Scotland.

Scotland Against Drugs, which has all-party support, has lulled us into a belief that there is an easy "just say no" solution. But many governments have lower incomes than the drug cartels and have lost all hope of controlling the trade.

David Macauley, director of Scotland Against Drugs, responded to the death of Andrew Woodcock by demanding that the Government withdraw funding for any agency whose approach does not match the "just say no" line. Those daring an alternative approach such as "harm reduction" have to be swept aside.

If the Government were to heed Mr Macauley's call, long established organisations would have to shut up shop. These include Fast Forward, commissioned to undertake Scotland Against Drugs's massive youth survey, Crew 2000, which the Scottish Office highlighted as a good example of peer education that works, and the Scottish Drugs Forum, praised by health ministers for its efforts with others in the community to find solutions. Even the Health Education Board for Scotland would be at risk.

But should we trust the new boys on the block - the Scotland Against Drugs team of about four staff including a pharmacist, a public relations expert and secondees from big business - to solve a problem hundreds of professionals have failed to conquer?

Following Drugs Awareness Week the media should be opening up the debate so that a much wider range of experience and talent can look at the problem. I myself have been involved in drugs education, rehabilitation and counselling of young victims for three decades.

Of one thing I am clear: there is no single person or organisation with the answer. That is what Scotland Against Drugs seems not to grasp.

Max Cruickshank is a freelance youth consultant.

What we should tell the children

* We have no idea what we are buying because there is no quality control.

* Some of the drugs we buy will have nothing in them at all.

* Even if you think that you know a "good dealer" you certainly don't know the others in the chain who supply the dealer.

* We have no idea what the long-term effects of any of the street drugs are.

* Most drug deaths are caused by cocktails of drugs, not by the use of a single drug.

* Any drug or medicine taken in the wrong quantity will poison you and could therefore kill you.

* When drugs are scarce on the market some people die from overdosing because when they start using drugs again their body cannot tolerate the strength of these drugs.

* Research over many years has made clear that our society is awash with illegal drugs. This means they are easily available to anyone anywhere in Scotland and are relatively cheap.

* When a drug is used regularly to avoid dealing with personal problems it has the effect of preventing us learning how to deal with these problems. This stunts emotional, spiritual and social growth and prevents us from maturing into adulthood.

* Short-term pleasure of any kind, including drug-induced pleasure, does not guarantee long-term happiness.

* All drugs alter the way our bodies function. Most of them also alter the state of our minds and perception of what is going on. This means that we are no longer in control of body or mind.

* If you feel that your drug use is getting out of hand, have the courage to seek help from a counselling agency, drugs workers or your own doctor. There is no shame in admitting that things have got out of control.

* Contrary to myths, none of the common street drugs are aphrodisiacs. Drugs like ecstasy cause urinary tract infections, especially in women and can also cause the loss of their periods. Some drugs alter perception so that you may imagine you are performing sexually better than you are. When people are disinhibited by drugs they are more likely to take risks leading to pregnancy or unsafe sexual practices: HIV infection is for life.

* Because drugs are illegal using them carries the risk of detection and a criminal record which may prevent you achieving certain things, such as getting a job.

* Cigarettes and alcohol are bigger killers for adults and young people than street drugs.

Max Cruickshank

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