Submitted by Tim Rathbone
1. The increased emphasis on treatment and
primary demand reduction in the Government's National Strategy
is very welcome. This represents a direct effort to reduce the
number of those tragically involved in misuse of drugslegal
and illegal. But it is in the area of primary demand reduction
that much more still needs to be done.
2. Education for better health and reduced
demand is the most powerful instrument we have to meet the challenge
of drugs misuse. To be effective each school, home and community
has a role to play. Education about drugs needs to start at kindergarten
age; drugs education should specifically cater for different age
groups and take account of children's different backgrounds and
emotional needs as they grow up; parents should be as much involved
in drugs education as teachers at school. Government needs to
do more to enable this to happen.
3. This will require more resources for
drugs education at various levels and stages: in schools, for
materials to use with pupils and for teachers to undergo initial
and in-service training; for parents' drugs programmes; for education
of professionals working in the community; and education in the
community as a whole so that everyone is informed and potentially
able to help prevent a drugs problem. And, in areas with particular
social and economic problems producing high-risk groups of disaffected
young people who are likely to be attracted to drug taking, health
education activities have to be specifically targeted in the broader
context of necessary improvements to the local environment.
4. To achieve better drugs education effectively,
best practice, here in the UK and in other countries, has to be
identified through continual measurement and the findings widely
disseminated. For instance, the relative merits of lessening the
temptation of drugs by encouraging healthier life styles must
be compared to specific teaching about the nature and dangers
of drugsand assessment made as to best mix of the two and
the best way of going about both.
5. Even at the basic level of providing
factual information about drugs, certain contradictions in society's
approach become apparent. How does one explain to an adolescent
why heroin is illegal, on the one hand, but free clean needles
are provided to injecting drug abusers, on the other? Why are
certain drugs like tobacco and alcohol legal, but cause thousands
of deaths per year, while cannabis is illegal?
6. But there is now established an inexorable
link between the consumption of legal and illegal drugs among
young people. Under-age drinking and smoking, in themselves illegal
activities, are gateways to taking illegal drugs. Those young
people who do not smoke or drink before they are 18 years old
are unlikely to have drugs problems. And the inhaling of legal
solvents and other volatile substances, which can, of themselves,
have severe and even fatal consequences, can also lead on to drug
abuse. Clearly there needs to be better control of all kinds of
legal substances which can cause considerable harm to under-age
illegal purchasers and young misusers.
7. In our country all drugs listed in the
United Nations Conventions are illegal to supply or possess unlawfully.
There are no tenable arguments for making any of these drugs legal,
as is sometimes suggested on the basis that alcohol and tobacco
are legal. We know that cancer caused by smoking tobacco is one
of the greatest killers in society today; and alcohol abuse can
and often does damage health, cause great misery and ruin lives.
But far more important is the fact that many illegal drugs cause
addiction in a comparatively short space of time, often leading
to dangerous and unsocial behaviour and damage to both mental
and physical health. And frequent consumption of cannabis/marijuana/hashish
can also cause damage, particularly to the reproductive organs
and to the efficient functioning of the brain, and can adversely
affect proper motivationspecially important with young
people in school and college.
8. The argument in favour of legalising
drugs, which claims that by decriminalising them the profit motive
and trafficking would disappear, fails because of the damage which
would be done to the health of increasing numbers of young people.
If such substances were made freely available, then consumption
would inevitably rise. If controls were applied, then a black
market would continue to exist. Either way, the argument for total
or controlled availability is not tenable.
9. Nevertheless, the Government should continue
to view the problem of drugs in a realistic way. The policy of
caution and referral for treatment is better than prosecution
of those caught with small quantities of cannabis for personal
use, as is the increasing use of drugs courts to the same end.
Harm reduction activities, such as supply of clean needles, can
reduce personal harm and prescribing controlled drugs such as
methadone can help established addicts to live more normally,
take away the criminal conduct involved in obtaining money to
buy illegal supplies and provide a useful bridge back to a drugs-free
10. The strongest weapon against drug abuse
and misuse is not the policeman or customs agent who tracks down
illegal drug traffickers and pushers (important those though efforts
continue to be) but the self-assured and responsible young person
who remains firm when being offered cigarettes, marijuana or cocaine.
In today's world, health education about drugs should be considered
to be as necessary as learning the alphabet. Only by improving
that education will we ever really start reducing demand. And
only by reducing demand will we ever overcome the national and
worldwide problem of drug trafficking and misuse.