Youth plays role in fighting drug abuse

UNDERSTANDING DRUGS By David Emmett and Graeme Nice Jessica Kingsley Pounds 12.95.

The misuse of drugs is the greatest danger to contemporary British society. but at least we recognise the problem and have decided to do something about it; therefore there is hope.

In combating it, the immense influence which young people have over each other far exceeds the influence of adults and is a potential positive force in dealing with the problem - the only one there is. Such is the powerful and well-articulated message from these two highly experienced practitioners in drug misuse.

Understanding Drugs is a "handbook for parents, teachers and other professionals". It offers a comprehensive description of drugs in popular use: their availability and cost, their effect - intended and unwanted - and the risks attached of addiction and overdosing.

This represents the bulk of the book. The authors then describe how to spot a drug misuser, the signs of drug usage, and what to do about it.

As a reference Understanding Drugs is of great value. However, the parts do not form a coherent whole. The authors begin by emphasising that young people are their best source of hope but nowhere else in the text is this explored or developed. The brief history of drug use is selective, focusing predominantly on post-war Europe. This would be reasonable, but for the bold reference to classical Greece and Rome.

Other issues are dealt with in the concluding chapters: useful guidance for the adult who is faced with deciding whether a young person is misusing drugs (be watchful, check out your perceptions, and tell someone); a discussion on whether cannabis should be legalised (it should not in the view of the authors); a framework for a school policy; and a glossary of drugs slang.

The experiences of the authors (one a policeman and the other a counsellor) are usefully shared with us. However, the book's greatest strength is as a drug reference guide, rather than as a well-argued text which lays out a coherent anti-drugs strategy. Understanding drug misuse is a crucial part of such a strategy; recognising the size of the problem is necessary and will ensure that the issues are addressed fundamentally. However, the most exciting and promising part of the whole work lies in the introduction: "....we can all be involved, and because of this we need not fail, we must not."

Mike Hughes works in social research for Dr Barnardos.

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