Wednesday, 18 March 2009

When did "Impartial Information" start meaning "Subtle Shock Tactics bordering on Propaganda"?

As a whole, the British public like to think they are quite well-informed about drugs. They are informed enough to know that all drugs are bad and scary, and to know that you will definitely die if you ever take them. At all. People know all about the large amount of drugs there are on the streets, how they are causing the country to slowly implode inside itself like a squatter's version of a black hole. They know that people who take drugs are low-life scum, or selfish party-goers, students, youngsters, threatening sections of society or more recently Middle Class kids and Come Dine With Me-esque dinner party guests. (As seen in the Guardian and the Daily Mail amongst many others.)

People know drugs are bad. Quite why they are bad is another story - yes, there are dangers involved, risks perhaps, but there are with a lot of our everyday British habits. Our penchant for binge drinking is reported with periodical panics, as is our love for fast food; smoking is now all but outlawed in our streets, and seemingly if you actually believe everything you hear, it isn't even safe to pop to the shops for some potentially blood-pressure-raising fizzy juice because you might just get shot, stabbed, happy-slapped or arrested for being a terrorist. Drugs are an easy thing to become indignant about. The uninformed know they're bad - they are illegal after all. There is no grey area. Easy peasy argument to have.

There isn't now going to be a scientifically-researched rant about how cocaine is less harmful than a battered sausage, or about how Ecstacy might be better for kids than their usual half-litre bottle of vodka. I don't roll that way. Drugs are drugs are drugs. Whatever anybody says about them, the stigma they have earned over the centuries (whether rightly or wrongly placed - think racial connotations in anti-cannabis propaganda in the 50s) will stick. Of course it will. Personally, I think anybody who discusses the health benefits/mind opening experiences of any particular substance in depth is truly, intensely, amazingly boring. Not much else. Yes, some aspects of drug culture fascinate me - it's a whole culture after all, and I am addicted to looking at society and all it's little quirks - and finding out where things are from and how they are made has been an interest of mine ever since I watched Come Outside as a child and they showed how crisps were made. It doesn't matter how many people group together and explain how brilliant all drugs might be, people will never accept them as an acceptable way of passing the time. It's because they feel threatened and scared by them. After all these years of scare tactics and shock stories, is it any wonder? Unless every illegal substance was suddenly declared legal, placed under strict regulation, taxed (Oh, the government would love that, wouldn't they?), sold in clean-looking modern shops, and given brand names and packaging, parents will not be satisfied with the pacifying stories of "I did it, and I was fine".

In a way, it's good that the majority of the public are afraid of drugs. Most are stupid enough not to bother with moderation or any other safety precaution that thousands would probably die if drugs were legalised tomorrow. Just look around town on a Saturday night. They can't even drink properly without going temporarily insane. Most probably still think that when you get your drink spiked, it's just a generic pill, called a "drug" that does it. No specific effects or name. All drugs are the same.

Any answers? Well, yes. People should be educated properly, so that when they find a mysterious bag of sparkledust in their beloved kiddy's sock drawer they know what they are talking about, what it does, why they are doing it and how they are taking it. Flying off the handle and checking their child into the Priory is not really the super best option to jump to. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned, people just don't realise this. Say the word "drugs" to a normal, friendly, moderately-educated parent and they instantly think "addict". "Needles". "BAD". Here I get to my main point: Talk to Frank.

Frank has been a useful resource for people to find out about drugs for nearly a decade now. We could argue and nit-pick about the quality and slant of its information, but essentially, it is providing a service to kids and adults alike, of which there was nothing like it before at all. Billy off his tits on LSD? Frank can tell you what he'll be feeling like tomorrow when it's worn off (probably very embarassed, given that he was off his tits in front of his Mum, but there you go). See, useful. So, in the 21st Century, when everyone was starting to make slow progress on the path of true drugs-awareness, why has Frank decided to become a scary website with animations of grotty teenagers having panic attacks?

Why are we now trying furiously to go backwards? Re-classifying cannabis to a Class B drug raised a few eyebrows, but you could argue that this was necessary given the strength of new strains of the plant. Fine, I accept that. But for a 14 year old and potentially his/her parents to log on to this site to find out what exactly it was they tried at their mate's house at the weekend, and be confronted with what can only be described as unnecessarily scary anti-drugs propaganda is unnecessary. Frank is meant to be impartial. Frank is meant to inform and educate. Give Frank the raised eyebrows and wagging finger of a reproachful adult, and kids will not log on anymore. They need this information. Being pushed away from it is only going to damage this country's attitudes towards drugs even further.

6 comments:

peterRepeater said...

It's funny how you mention that the general concensus of the British public is that drugs are bad; and you're right.

However, the public, the media and the government seem to circumvent the bigger issue of prescription drugs and their ever-increasing abuse. Prescription opiates such as Codeine Phosphate are highly addictive and can cause long-term problems with addiction, to name but one example.

I think legalisation of all drugs is a logical idea for the reasons you mention but it won't stop people abusing them. And although education would undoubtedly help, a normal distribution of drug users would still exist with people at both ends of the spectrum from cautious social users to heavy abusers.

Where to start though? Education needs money and money comes from tax revenue streams, which legalisation of illicit drugs and entry into the free market would contribute considerably.

But education doesn't just happen, it takes time. Maybe a staggered approach of steady legalisation is needed, which for a government already bedraggled with corruption and scandal, would be a logistical nightmare just to plan, nevermind to successully implement.

One final thought: I find it quite frightening that most ministers have very little education on drugs and their abuse, whether they be legal or illicit (or even fictitious!)

And they're charged with the responsibility to make informed decisions that lead to reform? They should Talk To Frank.

Katie said...

Bloody custard ganets.
It's a fucking disgrace.

the_man_in_the_middle said...

"Personally, I think anybody who discusses the health benefits/mind opening experiences of any particular substance in depth is truly, intensely, amazingly boring. Not much else."

No waaay, you should hear about this one time I took 'cid and I could see round corners, man!

It will always be the case that people who take drugs are spured on by the negative connotations. It gives them an edge to rant... attention is the opiate of the masses. I think to denounce these brave, freaky, explorers of human psyche as boring is a little unfair. The next time you hear someone start a conversation, 'This one time, when I was totally high...', remember the poor kid's trying to explain the universe exisits through self-observation, in a timeless knot as a grain of sand and it comes out as how he really likes choc-chip ice cream...

Katie said...

You obviously have a lot more patience with other humans than I do, mystery Man in the Middle.

I see your point about the poor kids trying to explain their suddenly expanded minds, but really, I don't want to hear about how everything's like, really big, but also like, really small? You know? Like we're all connected? It makes me cringe ever so slightly.

the_man_in_the_middle said...

It's easy to be tolerant if you're always laughing. Wankers can be a great source of amusement.

Katie said...

Haha, I haven't seen that show in ages. Must acquire it now.

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