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Friday, 4 January, 2002, 18:36 GMT
Drugs: Will young people listen?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
27 Dec 01 | UK
Anti-drugs campaign targets youngsters
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