Sunday, July 20, 2008

Teenage soft drug use - so bad?

In this age of fear and incessant orders in the media about how to behave, the article from India Knight in the Sunday Times today challenges one taboo that no mainstream politician dare touch.

Drug use and teenagers.

The mainstream media today is confused about teenagers. On the one hand they are to be cosseted and protected from the evils of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex, gentle fragile beings they are, on the other hand they need discipline, they need to learn what's"right from wrong", and they need to learn the consequences of their actions. Coincidentally the media loves them, for being where the fashion industry seeks when it wishes to portray beauty, where the music industry finds image and style to throw onto the soporific soma it calls music. As it so wishes, the media treats teenagers as a group (not individuals) who we need protection from and who need protection, who are reviled and feared, but also (secretly) desired and worshipped.

India Knight's article taps into your desire to protect them, by telling her own story about drugs as a teenager.

Before you type your outraged comment about "not understanding the devastation drugs can cause" etc etc, let me make it clear. Despite my position that drugs should be legalised for adults (but only along with some radical changes to tort law/ACC, state health provision and clarification of private property and contractual rights), I do not believe they should be legal for children, and that supply to minors should remain an offence.

So what does Knight say? Well you should read for yourself. However here are some choice quotes to get you thinking:

"I know we’re all supposed to tremble in our boots at the evil of recreational drug-taking but experimenting with drugs just seems to me normal – banal, really. Teenage binge-drinking is another story, because soft drugs don’t cause you to get cirrhosis when you’re still in your early twenties, or render you so out of it that you get raped, or leave the streets of Britain awash with vomit"

"By the time I went to university I had grown bored with the druggy scene and had evolved enough to get over the sense that drugs were exciting and naughty"

"All of which makes me think that a bit of teenage soft drug-taking is, for the vast majority, simply a rite of passage. Just as having underage sex doesn’t turn you into a nymphomaniac, so underage drug-taking tends, in the vast majority of cases, not to turn you into a tragic junkie"

"A clean-living friend recently spent a weekend partying (without artificial help) in Ibiza and couldn’t help noting that although every person he came across was on ecstasy, they were all smiling, kind, polite, courteous and friendly.

Compare and contrast, he said, with trying to walk through central London on a Friday night, when every other person is loud, obscene, aggressive and trying to start a fight and there’s always some poor sod on the night bus with a bleeding face, to say nothing of crumpled girls who are either crying or comatose with drink. “I know which I prefer,” he said, and so do I."

Now I know some die from drug use, and I know some have permanent damage from drug use, which of course is the same for alcohol, and the same for driving, adventure sports, diving and other activities. However, has prohibition made dying from drug use more or less likely? Is it more or less likely that drugs obtained in a criminal environment will be tainted or diluted by poisionous third substances? Is it more or less likely than teenagers will confess to parents about drug use if it is criminal? Is it more of less likely than teenagers will approach Police or go to hospitals if they fear being arrested rather than looked after if drug use goes wrong?

People will take drugs. Drugs if used too much, too regularly or inappropriately (e.g. with alcohol, other medication) are dangerous. People with dire lives due to inadequate, negligent or downright abusive parenting will be prone to drugs, alcohol, crime and reckless hedonism generally. Turning your back against drugs isn't going to make them go away. Those who call for zero-tolerance rarely mean what they say - they wouldn't have the Police raid every teenage party they could sniff out, and then use the means of intelligence and surveillance available to hunt down those who might use, so they could then execute search warrants on teenagers' bedrooms. Carefree liberalism also ignores the truth that drugs can be very dangerous.

That's why there needs to be a dialogue about change, part of that change is taking this out of the criminal justice system, but it is also about not treating all drug use as devastatingly destructive. Many young people use drugs, as they use sex, responsibly and without serious long term consequences. It is called experimentation and learning about life - but the lines between abstinence, responsible experimentation and reckless hedonism scare parents, understandably so. That fear is the reason to talk about it.

OH and while you're at it, read Barbara Ellen's column in the Observer "A little bit of sex education never hurt anyone". Her quote to stir up the middle classes must be:

"There is a point in your child's life when trying to stop them 'knowing stuff' is a bit like trying to put out a bush fire with a water pistol. And, short of dressing your kids in Amish gear, educating them in an underground cell at home, perhaps strangling them when they hit 13 or, indeed, guarding them like Cerberus at the mouth of Hades, there's not an awful lot one can do about it."

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