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Friday, 4 January, 2002, 18:36 GMT
Drugs: Will young people listen?
Young people partying at a popular disco - and possibly taking illegal drugs
Every year almost 700,000 youngsters take illegal drugs in the UK - many of them around the New Year period.

The year, the government is targeting these people with a 1.5m anti-drugs advertising campaign.

It is aimed at preventing children as young as 11-years-old taking drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine on New Year's Eve, warning of the long-term health effects.

But do these kinds of campaigns work? Do young people listen to what they are told about drugs? If not, what could the authorities do to cut down on drug abuse?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Governments will never be a substitute for the wisdom and friendship of parents

David, Wales
Yes, young people will listen. Lots of them do learn to recognise the dangers of taking drugs, by example from their peers and from common sense adults. Social behaviour is developed by daily interaction with other people. Governments, Social Service Depts etc. however well intentioned will never be a substitute for the wisdom and friendship of caring, but not suffocating, parents, relatives or friends. Call me old-fashioned but I do not subscribe to the growing trend of abandoning responsibility to someone else to deal with awkward social issues. This can often lead to a feeling of alienation and vulnerability which opens up the opportunity for exploitation. The Government should concentrate its effort on preventing drugs from getting onto our streets by hitting hard those big businesses that launder the profits of the drug barons. But of course, that would take massive political courage.
David, Wales

Whether it be your first drink, cigarette, spliff, or pill, the point is you can never tell what the consequences will be because we are all different, and drugs affect people differently. From that first sip of alcohol you don't know if it will be something that you will become addicted to. I have taken the odd pill or line of coke at parties with friends, but it is not something I do often, and as I get older, less and less, but I have no regrets and I am one of the lucky ones since I have never experienced mental or addictive side affects. But I do know of people less fortunate, who simply took it too far and never knew when to quit. You will never be able to stop young people experimenting with drugs. The consequences can go either way, and youngsters should be made aware of that. I was always taught that drugs and sex are there to be experimented with if people want to - but you have to have a certain amount of responsibility for such actions, and not get pushed around. I have plenty of friends who have never done drugs as well as those who have, and we all get along fine. What one finds enjoyable, somebody else doesn't always enjoy. Each to their own. There will always be tragic cases and family problems linked to drugs - but then there are lots of problems in this world, and many other things that can cause heartache and grief. You can do everything right, walk out your front door and get knocked over, that quickly - I should know since it happened to my sister. I believe there will always be a drugs crisis and we waste good money after bad - legalise the lot and be done with!
Ally, UK

Are people really so short-sighted to think that the only people who use recreational drugs are all teenagers trying to get into the "rave culture"? As Steve Brien in London has pointed out, there are many more people throughout the whole social scale who use drugs. It is a massive waste of police resources to try and crack down on the less harmless drugs, perhaps the Government should re-think their tactics. If anything is deemed as rebellious to kids they will do it. I remember sneaking out at 16 and 17 to have a drink - as soon as 18 came the novelty wore off.
Mike Rogers, Wales

That's not a reason to decriminalise everything in sight

Guy Chapman, UK
There seems to be a widely held view here that recreational drugs are "harmless." Sorry, but I can't agree. Sure, education campaigns are doomed to frustration, but that's not a reason to decriminalise everything in sight. The occasional spliff will probably never harm anyone, but cocaine is an extremely dangerous drug and the best thing we can do is make sure that (a) it's as hard to get hold of as possible and (b) nobody is in any doubt about how dangerous it is.

If you are rich and famous you can probably get good quality gear but cocaine is insidious and very often recreational use turns to self-destruction; the money dries up, you move to less "reputable" suppliers and you're flying without a parachute. The best we can hope for is that Government information films take the kind of realistic line we've seen with drink-drive campaigns.
Guy Chapman, UK

Another talking point asks about New Year's resolutions, saying "The champagne has been drunk, the hangover is passing ..." Young people are constantly exposed to this sort of message, where drunkenness and hangovers are depicted as a normal part of the Xmas/New Year celebrations. This diminishes considerably the strength of any message to say "no" to other drugs.
Brian Milner, UK

I never touched drugs - alcohol excepted. I am 24, and probably never will. I put it down to the fact that my parents let me decide. They used to say things like "you know the dangers and what might happen, but it's your choice". That way, I knew I was responsible for my actions, and as such chose not to risk my life. Maybe more parents should be like that.
Sandra, UK

It's a big thing here in Florida and the cops have just recently caught on. In Orlando the city council banned the building of any new night clubs. The problem isn't the scene or the pushers so much as it is rebellion against authority.

Stop taking such a hardline stance on the issue and start talking to your kids on a some what "normal" level and gradually the problem will shrink, but never go away.
Karl, USA

Will young people listen? To who? To the older people who tell us that drugs are evil but really have no idea what they are are what they do? I doubt it.
N Bradley, UK

How many 11 year olds listen to what a government is saying?

Christopher Laird, Japan
Anyone would think that the majority of your correspondents had never been 'young people'! I was a teenager in the sixties - and even that long ago (!) I experimented with LSD and Pot. The others weren't around then, coke was only for the debbie classes, and heroin was for real dangerous junkies only, but recreational drugs were freely available in all places where 'young people' congregated, and nothing has changed. What you need to bear in mind is that the majority will grow up to be responsible members of society, MPs, teachers, doctors and even lawyers, despite their youthful experiences. I did, and so did most of my friends.
Lesley, United Kingdom

I think that the wrong people are targeted here. If you are talking about stopping children as young as 11 from taking drugs, the ones who need to do the educating are the parents (and it wouldn't cost as much!). How many 11 year olds listen to what a government is saying?
Christopher Laird, Japan

We might as well decriminalise everything. Such law enforcement as exists is useless. Pushers get pathetic sentences. smugglers get pathetic punishment. Users are rarely even charged. Unless there is a ultra-conservative backlash, we may as well let people do what they wish - some will learn and some will not. The only alternative might infringe someone's civil liberties, which would be a terrible crime in the eyes of some. The reason most teens do this is as follows - their mates do it, it's illegal and they can get away with it scot free. Simple as that.
Rod, UK

Unfortunately I believe that drugs are an inevitable part of present teenage culture all over the world and it is essential that some attempt is made to keep teenagers informed of the risks in order to minimise usage. Although they are doubtless aware of the dangers to some extent, the more they are told the more they listen.

In addition there are many comments connecting alcohol usage with harder drug taking, I believe that if teenage drinking was clamped down on any further they would simply turn to other possibly more harmful alternatives. Remember the UK has a far more relaxed attitude towards alcohol than the US and they have a far worse drug problem.
Adam, UK

We currently live in a society where the phrase "If it feels good do it" is the underlying sentiment of young people outside work. The recreational use of drugs, promiscuity, shopping, television and sport are just some of the ways that people enjoy themselves without hurting others. What exactly is so wrong with that? The government should be spending our money more wisely.
Alex James, England

It is not worth it but some of us are foolish enough to have to touch the fire before realising it is hot

Alcohol is responsible for 100 deaths a day in this country, either directly or non-directly, and is therefore the biggest killer drug in this country. Ecstasy has claimed about 50 deaths in the last 10 years and quantities of 1 million pills are taken each weekend, thus 52 million pills are taken a year.
Compare the two and which looks a safer bet? I am not saying that this is right or wrong however, when faced with these statistics kids will not be deterred only made more curious. I know I was, but then I ended up in hospital with severe depression and it has taken me over 4 years and I am still not fully recovered. It is not worth it but some of us are foolish enough to have to touch the fire before realising it is hot.

The problem with drugs is that they get pushed on kids, on disco's, nightclubs, school yards, etc. The reason they get pushed is because of the massive profits to be made from them.
To stop kids taking drugs, the profit margins must be cut, then no one will try to push them anymore.
Mark van der Born, The Netherlands

I know my daughter does "E's". Nothing I, anyone else or any fancy campaign can say or do will change that, she has to come to the realisation herself that it's doing her no good, I guess she needs a "BAD" experience to make her stop. Its a fact that drug taking is just part of the culture young people are caught up in. It is the source of these drugs which needs to be dealt with. QUICKLY!
Susan, UK

Back in 1964 when I was a teenager, my Headmaster stood up in School Assembly and announced that he was concerned about boys sniffing the Acetone Bottles in the chemistry lab to get 'high'. I can assure him that no-one knew about this until his announcement but the following day the Acetone Bottle was sniffed by everyone in my class to find out what he was on about. Times change but Kids don't. If someone in Authority says something then the average teenager will do the opposite.
Anthony, England

The people who take them are the only ones able to do the educating

Jack, UK
All this talk of 'education' makes me laugh, if you are talking about the effects of certain drugs, then the people who take them are the only ones able to do the educating. As for doctors, no-one listens to them, as all they do is tow the government line. The problem with drug-abuse is that anyone with any power to influence the situation is too scared politically, to admit any knowledge of what they are supposed to be talking about, in case they are accused of being a 'closet junkie'.
What is needed, is meaningful, unbiased, research into the effects, and relative harmfulness, of all the drugs that are available, legal and illegal. Until that happens, our children will listen to reason, about as much as we did when we were their age.
Jack, UK

I have taken Ecstasy, Speed, Cocaine and Marijuana for over 10 years on a social level. I have my own software contracting firm, I own property and am financially secure. I am in a loving monogamous relationship and have a great network of close friends, all of whom are very successful (a doctor, IT professionals, business consultants) and the majority enjoy social drug use. I would never condone drug use but personally it has not had any negative impact on my life. Any anti-drugs campaign should be hard-hitting truths about the dangers of drugs such as heroin (the only drug I have known to have caused real harm to a persons life).
Steve Brien, London

The right kind of campaign can succeed, but it would need to address the reasons kids take drugs. Peer pressure, depression, emotional issues and curiosity. Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" Campaign was a terrible example. Who could face any of the reasons I just mentioned with that lame attitude? Being an honour student, I was much more impressed by the ads frying an egg and pointing out that drugs 'fry' a person's brain. Today, the ads showing the odd obsessive behaviour and health problems associated with heroin with a ridiculous upbeat song playing in the background are a good modern counterpart. It helps dispel the heroin-chic image.
Margo, USA

It is not true that only the user is affected by drug use. The death of my son from drugs affected his siblings and parents.
Geoffrey Davies, United Kingdom

Overall, will the campaign have the effect the designers are seeking? No. Will some teens/children be positively impacted? Yes. I write from experience as I was positively impacted by the anti-drug/alcohol campaign we saw as kids in the 1980's. I realise that I am in the minority on this and can understand those who see the expense of the campaign exceeding the benefits. However, I must say that I am grateful for the encouragement I received to avoid drugs.
Greg, USA

I am 20 years old and I have never tried any drugs. No government campaign will deter teenagers to experiment with drugs. This also applies to underage sex and smoking. The only thing that I can suggest is to get former drug addicts doing a Q&A sessions with teenagers at school and college. In these, teenagers can hear someone that has messed their lives with drugs and later regret it. This will make the message stick to their heads than any government campaign.
Helen, UK

Making recreational drugs illegal simply doesn't work. The sooner we face up to this fact, the sooner we can have a drugs policy that actually does something to stop the drug related deaths instead of throwing money down the drain in pointless policing and propaganda.
James Pittman, England

So, the message is going out to young people in clubs and pubs, don't take drugs. Somebody should tell the government that pubs are in the business of selling one of the most dangerous drugs that exist - alcohol.
John Yates, Finland

I see far more people addicted to tobacco, who are killing themselves and have harmed their children's health yet they go unpunished

Fiona, UK
Dave is absolutely right. I am stunned by the hypocrisy of people who are addicted to cigarettes telling people that drugs are bad, alcohol is bad, but tobacco is ok. I see far more people addicted to tobacco, who are killing themselves and have harmed their children's health yet they go unpunished because it is an acceptable drug. Why should kids listen to ads claiming that marijuana is dangerous? Teens are far from stupid - they're bright enough to recognise the sheer hypocrisy of the adults around them.
Fiona, UK, living in US

I doubt very whether this will have any effect. Kids are already aware that there are dangers involved with taking drugs.
A far more productive focus would be to give information how to minimise risks involved with taking drugs, rather than preaching that they are bad.
Phil, UK

People do drugs for exactly the same reason people drink alcohol, because the experience is enjoyable

Julian, UK
It is not at all clear that such campaigns do anything but "preach to the converted", reinforcing the views of those who wouldn't take non-alcohol based drugs anyway. 1.5m is large price to pay for potential non-impact. I would like to see some work done examining the efficacy of advertising campaigns vs other forms of harm reduction in the field of drug abuse (including alcohol abuse). Beyond that there needs to be a serious debate regarding our definitions of use/abuse of drugs and the rather arbitrary split we currently have regarding legal drugs (alcohol, tobacco, caffeine) and illegal drugs (cannabis, ecstasy, speed etc). The aim should be to produce coherent policy that addresses the legality of drug use in an objective, functional manner and which achieves a good compromise between the health and happiness of users. It is worthwhile remembering that most people take drugs (including alcohol) primarily to have fun, not to damage themselves and are successful!! in doing so.
BS McIntosh, Sweden (ex-UK)

It really depends on whether the campaign aims to tell the truth, or whether it resorts to the usual scaremongering and tabloid style mythology combined with patronising strap lines ("Heroin screws you up" - good grief, they may as well have used the line "Heroin is a really bad scene man"!). I suspect it will be the latter, and that it will therefore not work. However, it will serve the purpose of placating Joe Public, which is of course the real main aim.
Simon Moore, UK

Youngsters know very well that drugs do a great harm to health, but they take delight in doing it, only to regret it later. Many "angels" become victims of peer group pressure. There should be a campaign on how to save the youth from peer group pressure.
Albert P'Rayan, India

On the margin there will be a very small number of children who will listen. Chances are that these are not the ones who will mess themselves up by over-indulgence. The blanket ban on drugs means that the real message that is required, e.g. do not inject, do your best to be sure of what you are taking and don't overdo it, cannot be given. People do drugs for exactly the same reason people drink alcohol, because the experience is enjoyable. Just like alcohol, in moderation most do little or no harm.
Julian, UK

No one who is at risk will pay attention to it and will be unlikely to see it in any case

Alan Manson, Scotland
I don't think that the government's tactics are all that wrong, I mean really there isn't a lot that they can do. Just saying that to take drugs is wrong is hypocritical because of the number of deaths we see each year from alcohol abuse. The youth of today can see that and that's one of the main things they use to excuse doing it - "If I wasn't doing this then I would only be drinking", but then legalising all drugs isn't actually going to stop people from taking them. Let's face it, it's just going to make drugs a lot easier to get hold of. Speaking from experience at the height of my drug-taking the only reason I didn't do coke every Friday night was because I couldn't get hold of it. Sell it legally and I would have been able to simply pop into a shop and by it over the counter. The only thing they can really do is inform people of the dangers and I think they do that pretty well.
Ben, England

Why is this money being wasted on a campaign that will do nothing? No one who is at risk will pay attention to it and will be unlikely to see it in any case. We are again talking about parental responsibility here, or the lack of it. If your child is out on New Year surely they should be supervised, or at least with people parents trust. At this time of year alcohol is the biggest problem and it is this that should be addressed, with particular attention paid to traders. Alcohol will kill you quickly, never mind any so-called future side effects from taking drugs. Cocaine itself is chemically non-addictive and does not physically harm your body - the addiction is purely pyschological, it just empties your bank account. All these campaigns seem to do is keep employed the overpaid and under-brained social worker element that has become prevalent in this society. Force more responsibility onto parents and get rid of the overweight social work departments. Money saved can then be put into improving housing etc. in the areas where it matters.
Alan Manson, Scotland

In the fifth grade we had an extensive drug education program at my school. We would talk about different drugs, their effects, and their dangers. I remember thinking, "I can't wait to try that, and that, etc." As long as there are drugs around, young people will use them. Nobody is thinking about the danger when they feel so good!
Franklin, Maryland, USA

The idea that you can stop kids from doing drugs either by prohibition or by propaganda has been proved wrong time and time again. It is necessary to have an honest and realistic approach. By all means try and persuade people to not do drugs by means of education but accept some will. These people need to be made aware of safer methods and of the particularly dangerous pitfalls - such as mixing with alcohol or dehydrating. Also you need to get more realistic with penalties. It's always struck me as ridiculous that "cutting" drugs with potentially lethal materials is not an offence in itself. These people ought to be charged with murder or attempted murder.
Charles Moore, Scotland

I think a more strict upbringing from parents is the only way forward

Paul Gower, Rockingham, Western Australia
Will the campaign fail? Is it useless? I don't think so. As a medical student, I saw many corpses of drug abusers. Their brains were like broken balloons and their livers were as ugly as possible. After looking at them, I could have sworn that I will never touch drugs, including alcohol and nicotine. As a medical student, I think that the campaign should tell all people about real danger of drugs. Don't only tell youngsters "Drugs are dangerous", and let them understand that a person may choose to start using a drug but after a while the drug begins to use him. Unless all people participate in this campaign and keep drugs away, young people will not stop using drugs. In conclusion, the successful campaign should make everyone say "No" to drugs.
Chie-Nan Wang, Taipei Medical University, Taiwan

Drugs education, smoking education, sex education, alcohol education. It seems quite obvious that its target audience takes not a blind bit of notice. And yet middle class "professionals" keep stating that just a little bit more education will do the trick, which it never does. The education professionals seem unable to grasp the idea that just because they can understand that these "pleasures" are harmful a lot of people just do not care and are not going to listen to them. After all, listening to wiser heads is not something that Britain's youngsters have any experience of - thanks to the professional educators.
Phil, UK

If the political angle were dropped, drug-taking would be seen chiefly as another unhealthy activity alongside eating fatty foods, smoking, excessive drinking and not taking regular exercise. Given that people only worry about their health as they get older, it seems unlikely that children will take much notice of any health advice. In addition to this, young people see drug-taking as rebellious and "cool" anyway, so there is an incentive to drug-taking before the effects of the drug are considered. Statistically speaking, the chances of a young person dying or suffering due to drugs are actually quite slim, so the only other real factor to play with is that drugs are expensive. The factor of expense actually becomes most relevant from a sociological perspective, as this is where the image of "young people on drugs stealing from their mothers to pay for more drugs" comes from in the first place. Curiously, this financial factor is the least explored in government advertising campaigns, but is likely to be quite effective. Most young people nowadays are quite mercenary, so to present drug-taking as an expensive habit, factoring in the cost of addiction where applicable, would have a certain appeal. The only slight fly in the ointment is that alcohol turns out to be the most expensive drug of all, for what you get (though that is offset by the fact that it is not as addictive as many other drugs).
Brendan Fernandes, UK

Absolutely not. I was a drug user from the age of 13 and no matter what disasters would occur I would always go back and try it again. My first experience of drugs was a famous ecstasy tablet called a "blue wiggy" and I never looked back after that. I'm not promoting drugs as I do not touch them anymore but I don't see government campaigns working. I think a more strict upbringing from parents is the only way forward.
Paul Gower, Rockingham, Western Australia

Teenagers are stupid - they arrogantly believe they're immune from potential harm

Stephen, USA
The government has to take this approach as it is seen as the right thing to do. They know it is not going to stop youngsters from taking drugs but gives them peace of mind that they are investing in a problem in Britain to make it better. And does this make it better? Absolutely not. I think we should go back to the drawing board with the kids of Britain and bring back discipline (in school and at home), the cane, and other methods that will bring some dignity and respect back into our country. They wouldn't even think of stepping out of line then.
Fraser Howse, London, England

It is agonising that in spite of what we say youngsters aren't going to stop doing drugs overnight. However, talking and education will help to curtail the habit in the long run. For now the supply routes must be cut. Stiffer penalties must be imposed on traffickers and peddlers.
Mohamed Barrie, The Gambia

By all means, give the campaign a try, but teenagers are stupid - they arrogantly believe they're immune from potential harm. Only when someone close to them dies from drugs or they have a close call themselves do they listen.
Stephen, USA

The UK Government along with most other Western governments are still completely missing the point about drugs. People, (including myself) take drugs because we enjoy them - the same reason people drink alcohol. While the government allows the two most dangerous drugs - alcohol and nicotine - to be freely consumed despite knowing their awful side-effects, why should anyone believe the government has our best interests at heart? More people die each year from reactions to penicillin than die from ecstasy. Cannabis has never caused a single death. The government has no right whatsoever to tell me what I can or cannot ingest for my own pleasure providing no one else gets hurt. The so-called war on drugs was lost when governments the world over started lying about drugs and their effects. They are still lying and until they face up to the truth that people have always taken drugs and will continue to do so they will have no effect on people taking drugs in this country.
Simon Crossman, UK

The campaign will not work, it will be another pointless waste of taxpayers' money

Dean, UK
Young people will listen, provided the government doesn't come out with the useless "all drugs are bad, don't do drugs" campaign that they have in the past. Understand that some people will do drugs. Teach them to at least make sure they go with at least one friend and that they both know the effects of what they are about to take - and I don't mean the attempt at scaring about the long-term effects. Teach them that dehydration and over-hydration are the main killers of drug-takers. Advise them of the need to sit down every once in a while. If the government were realistic then they would advise clubs where people have taken drugs to have a "drugs warden" - not to search people, but to take care of a ventilated room where people who are on drugs can come down or relax for a while and make sure that they are safe. Legalising the drugs may be too much of a step - but if the government did, at least then health regulations could be enforced on the drugs to make sure they aren't full of talcum powder/broken glass etc.
Paul, England

One can see the hypocrisy when one sees an advert for drugs followed by a commercial for an alcoholic drink. Don't patronise young people, they are not as stupid as this government thinks they are, they can see the lies and propaganda of the government in this war on (some) drugs. Isn't it time to try a different method? I advocate ending prohibition and ending the crime that comes with it.
Dave, UK

Kids are innocent little angels who listen, but the problem is whether they are listening to keep off from drugs. In most urban areas some kids belong to groups that impose peer pressure on them to experiment with some illicit drugs the drug cartel want to market. It is up to us parents to street proof them and educate them on the danger of illegal drugs on their health and future.
Namara, Canada

The campaign will not work, it will be another pointless waste of taxpayers' money. Kids taking drugs at 11 can only have happened because they've already tried smoking and drinking. Perhaps the advertising campaign should focus on the limiting of alcohol advertisements on TV, perhaps persuading parents to not have booze cabinets so their kids can raid it. Maybe society shouldn't be so narrow-minded and accept the fact that alcohol is the gateway drug. But no, it's cool to drink, everybody drinks and it's a massive source of conversation for some people. Social lives wouldn't exist without alcohol, but as it's socially acceptable, it's not a problem in politicians' eyes.
Dean, UK

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