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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 10:59 GMT
Drug death pictures: Do shock tactics work?
The parents of a 21-year-old student who died of a heroin overdose have released graphic pictures of her death to warn teenagers of the dangers of the drug.

Mick and Pauline Holcroft, of Ledbury, Herefordshire, have allowed pictures of their daughter Rachel Whitear to be used in an anti-drugs video for secondary schools to "make people think" about the dangers of the drug.

The 22-minute film, entitled Rachel's Story, shows how she began as a "beautiful and brilliant" girl and portrays her slide into heroin addiction. Mr and Mrs Holcroft hope this will also challenge stereotypes about drug abusers.

The police photograph shows her body keeled over on the floor, with bruised and discoloured flesh and a hypodermic syringe in her hand.

The parents of teenager Leah Betts also released graphic pictures of their daughter, who died after taking ecstasy in 1995.

Do you think that shock tactics work? Is this a good way to inform young people about the dangers of drug use? Or does it offend more than it informs?

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

Your reaction

The once useful shock tactic card has been so overplayed that it has lost its impact

Chris B, England
The once useful shock tactic card has been so overplayed that it has lost its impact. Appealing to a heroin user's sense of reason is, in any case, a complete waste of time, because if rational argument worked they wouldn't have become involved with heroin in the first place. If people need to be protected from their self-destructive traits the only practical solution is to render the object of their desire unavailable. In conclusion, heroin needs to be attacked at source rather than at street level. Publishing pictures of the corpse of a heroin addict is sensationalist, worthless and entirely inappropriate.
Chris B, England

If this saves just one person and their family from going through it then it is worth it. I am sure her family agonised over the decision to do this. Maybe there should be posters all over the place of people dying of drink, drugs and smoking.
Carol, England

I am 16, and this picture scared the hell out of me... And my friends, many of whom are already smoking pot, have said that it puts them of heroin... From a teenager's mouth, shock tactics have to work.
Baz, UK

This picture of the Holcroft calamity, spells out the shock very effectively. People look at pictures and believe it happened! They apply it to themselves! When they read words they form their own idea and picture, any imagined picture except reality. Show us the whole story in pictures every single day, the whole shocking truth.
Stuart F MacDonald, Australia

If one drug user sees her photo and kicks the habit then her death wasn't for nothing.

Gawain Bunnett, England
If one drug user sees her photo and kicks the habit then her death wasn't for nothing. I think that all photos of dead drug users should be published. All they have to do is stop one person from using drugs or stop using drugs. And they have worked
Gawain Bunnett, England

I'd show my daughter and son this picture in a heartbeat, they were both shocked, where can I get a copy for this country, its something everyone with children should see, and so should the children, even if it only helps one person, its done its job, well done and all my love and best wishes go to her parents, one hard thing to do, one person saved.
Cheryl, Australia

Perhaps it's surprising, but in general trying to scare people into going in a direction in life doesn't work. That's just the way people are - it has a short term effect if any, and only leaves them feeling worse. Many heroin takers feel they know what to do to minimise the risks, and some are right. They should instead be reminded about more subtle ways in which drug use will damage someone's life.
Jonathan Kerr, Surrey, UK

People cannot be expected to make properly informed choices without all the facts

Simon Turner, UK
At the age of sixteen - nineteen years ago - I was subjected to the sort of 'shock tactics' Herefordshire police are proposing. Bedfordshire police drug squad visited my school and showed a film that included the post-mortem of an addict. I have no doubt that this had a lasting and positive effect on my attitude to drugs.

I was subsequently in very close proximity to drugs, drug taking and addicts; this gave me a very good understanding of the ups and downs of drugs, no pun intended. I resisted the temptation to experiment and at least two people known to me at the time have subsequently died of overdoses. While drug taking is a complex issue and includes everything from a pint in the pub after work to full-blown heroin addiction people cannot be expected to make properly informed choices without all the facts. My sympathies to Mr and Mrs Holcroft.
Simon Turner, UK

I am always amazed at a "drugs can kill debate" that fails to mention that alcohol will kill far more people than illegal drugs. Would a picture of an alcohol related death on the front page of a newspaper have generated as much publicity? I doubt it and I find that more distressing than today's pictures.
Michael Ohl, England

If the shock factor in these pictures saves one person, they have to be a good thing.
Nick Warde, UK

This will achieve nothing

Rob, UK
We've all seen the ads about drink-driving, yet it still goes on. This will achieve nothing, except to make the newspapers that publish the pictures seem caring and moral - which they are not.
Rob, UK

Excellent idea, the parents of Rachel surely deserve an honorary award. The morally bankrupt media and celebrity world have made it cool to take drugs in recent times. Anything to counteract this false propaganda must be commended.
Shak, UK

You can show images to children and young adults but unless you can link this to their real world it will make little difference, it just falls into the pile or other media images, films etc that they see every day. By stopping the growth of these drugs is the only way to stop usage and wasteful deaths such as Rachael's.
Mark Wood, UK

Shocking images like this only serve to obscure the need for a proper grown-up debate about the use of all recreational drugs in our society

Simon, UK
Many people have commented that if these pictures help to deter one young person from using drugs, then that justifies their use. I don't agree. Shocking images like this only serve to obscure the need for a proper grown-up debate about the use of all recreational drugs in our society, both legal and illegal. Simply telling people that if they use drugs, they will end up like this just does not work, and it saves the powers that be from having to deal with the awkward fact that there are a lot of happy, healthy drug users in this country who are understandably sceptical when force-fed anti-drugs propaganda. By the way, I do not use illegal drugs.
Simon, UK

Rachael Whitear's parents are to be commended for their efforts. Unfortunately, most young people have no sense of their own mortality - they think death is something that only happens to other people, and it's impossible to get past this illusion.
Michael Entill, UK

Speaking as someone with a first hand experience of the hell that is created by heroin, I would like to commend Mr & Mrs Holcroft for their bravery.

My brother is 22 year old and has been an addict for a number of years, he cannot hold down a job, steals from his family and has turned down help and spent time living on the streets where he can beg or steal to get money for his next fix. He simply lives for the drug and we have no hope for him anymore and I my heart jumps with fear each time the phone rings as I keep expecting to receive the dreaded call. Heartbreaking as it was, my parents were left with no choice but to throw him out of their house. Through all this heartache, we have learnt that now that he is addicted that really there is no hope for him. At 22 we can basically write his life off, as we have tried everything. Addicts will sacrifice everything for a fix and really the best form of cure is prevention.

If one person thinks twice about taking drugs because of what the Holcroft's have done then it is definitely worthwhile. As the world of drug addiction is a horrible, dark and evil place that no one would want to visit, but once visited it is very hard to return.
Ian, Ireland

Propaganda will always have a part to play in persuading people to not do something or other. But these occasional media outburst of horror stories will not change much. The UK really needs to take a look at itself and ask why are we the biggest abusers of Drugs and Alcohol in Europe. This requires a broader look at our society as a whole. Why is it in other European countries do they not abuse alcohol in the same manner, even in countries where certain drugs are decriminalised. Is it to do with the fact that people in other European countries have a more relaxed lifestyle, a desire to embrace life and humanity. To enjoy life, for life to be enjoyable enough so that they do not have to abuse drugs to enjoy themselves. We need to teach children that life matters. The UK has a culture of quick fix, get drunk, get high, fast food etc.. Drugs and Alcohol abuse can only be solved with a broader look at society and lifestyles, and while this video may go in some small part to opening peoples eyes to the dangers of one particular drug it will not go the whole way to solving the problem of abuse and what it costs society every year.
Leon Noble, Scotland

Most addicts die because of dirty Heroin not because of the Heroin itself.

Steve B, Northern Ireland
This sad death is unnecessary. If addicts had a proper channel through health service support and not through an underground dirty supply they could live a relatively normal and long life. Most addicts die because of dirty Heroin not because of the Heroin itself. These shock tactics will only have a limited effect because most people are aware of the risks and those who try it believe they will not die. Prohibition has not worked, does not work, and will not work. The sooner so called civilised society stops moralising on the drugs issue and starts to deal with it humanely the better off we will all be.
Steve B, N Ireland

I have recently lost my partner and my children¿s' father to a possible heroin overdose. I would like it known that heroin has no class boundaries and affects many peoples lives. I would not like my son to see this anti drugs video he is 13 and has suffered enough because of this drug. We live on an estate where it only costs £5 to get a deal. Education is important but showing a picture of a dead person I don't think will stop those who really want to try drugs.

As a recovering drug addict myself, no amount of 'fear' or 'shock' worked in my case. Why?, An addict is in denial, and will only do something about their addiction, when they see the that they hit their own personal rock bottom.
Shane O'Neill, Ireland

Addiction is an illness. Shock tactic pictures do not disturb the already self destructive and suicidal. Heroine is a drug of oblivion, used to hide from pain. These pictures will only have an impact on children who are already horrified and unlikely to take the addiction route. If we want to reduce the amount of people suffering from this illness, we need to look at the way we raise our children. To often they are as clever about hiding their sorrows as they are at hiding their drug abuse. Children who are self confident and secure, who are taught a modicum of beneficial self discipline, do not often fall victim to this illness.
Ann Monica, UK

These days in the UK everyone knows the dangers of drugs. For years schools have taught it and for years young people have ignored the warnings. This is just the last in a long line untimely deaths. Drugs are here to stay I'm afraid and no lessons or "shock tactics" are going to change this. We are a nation of casual drug users, from Alcohol to Heroin, and unfortunately there will always be those that can't draw the line and end up dead.
Nick , UK

Surely this is enough proof that any form of legalising drugs will never work.

John W N, USA
Surely this is enough proof that any form of legalising drugs will never work. We must work harder and be stricter on offenders who sell or distribute these lethal cocktails. We should never give in to liberal pressure to legalise any form of drugs. NEVER while we still love our children.
John W N, USA

This is no tactic. This is pure information and, shocking or not, information can only be good. The only real tactic that can be used starts from the recognition that addiction is a health problem and needs to be medically addressed. Everything else can be categorised as symptoms or side effects. I was a heroin addict for 12 years until, 9 years ago, I finally found the help and support I needed to win over this disease. Any form of repression misses the target enormously.
Steward, UK

Heroin is a very safe drug indeed, although even when properly administered, it carries some risk to the user. What isn't safe is shared needles, adulterated heroin and heroin of varying purity which means that the user doesn't know the size of the dose they are administering to themselves. Shock tactics are all very well - perhaps they'll stop a few potential users - but its the fact that heroin supply is in the hands of unaccountable dangerous criminals who distribute poor quality heroin that is the real problem. A wise government would concentrate on that, instead of pursuing sensationalism.
David T, UK

We have tolerated for too long the glamorisation of drug taking through heroin chic and films such as train spotting and champagne and cocaine sets via the media. For some bizarre reason it is considered cool, trendy and acceptable to ruin our bodies like this. Here we have the gritty reality that we are all to frightened as a society to look at. The parents of this girl have done so much for the future of young people in my opinion. If they only save one life they it is worth it. It is so refreshing in this selfish world that two people are prepared to stand up and horrify us in to realising what is happening despite all their grief. Good luck with it all and my thoughts and prayers are with you.
A-M, 23, UK

Well, I showed my daughters (15 & 12)these pictures, they were both very shocked and said that images like this would definitely put them off taking drugs and that they should be used in schools. They agree with me that education about drugs should start in Primary school, as children are more easily shocked and influenced at that age.
Suzanne Shipway, UK

The pictures are very, very sad but nobody ever mentions the sheer ecstasy she and all drug takers get from taking from Heroin. Heroin is not a drug that enslaves you against your will. Heroin gives you the most extreme pleasure that a human can experience. And for a few quid, a hard up student can escape all the pressure of University or College. Legalising it won't work, putting people in prison because they take it wont work. We have to find something a bit more intelligent than carrots and sticks to sort this problem out.
Ian, U.K.

Unfortunately a picture of a dead heroin addict will not (in my opinion) stop anybody taking drugs, (the same way pictures of car wrecks don't prevent drunk/dangerous driving) I also remember the anti-heroin drives of the 80's + 90's full of graphic pictures and horror stories. If it had worked none of us would be posting here today, would we?
Steve, England

This is not a shock tactic - this terrible photograph is a fact.

Victoria, UK
This is not a 'shock tactic' - this terrible photograph is a 'fact'. See it for what it is, and pray that this terrible image remains with everyone of us as a reminder of what could happen. Let's please learn a lesson from it and just pray that such drugs are never legalised in this country. May God bless this poor girl and be with her family.
Victoria, UK

The shock came not from the pictures, but from the statistic that there are 1000 deaths like it every year, meaning there have 2000 since the Holcroft family's tragic loss. That such a high proportion of heroin addicts, roughly 2% according to "The Guardian", die each year is the shock. Compare that to the number of users of cannabis, or ecstasy users and the number of deaths associated with the use of these drugs and you begin to appreciate the extreme danger of heroin. That should be the message.
Tom, UK

Although the pictures show a tragic waste of a young life, I personally believe that the moral high ground won't work. People become addicted to whatever their chosen "vice" is, be it drugs, drink, gambling, joyriding, or whatever. Eradicating drugs won't work as it's a case of demand & supply, and if there's a will, there's a way. After all, everyone must be fully aware of the dangers of tobacco, alcohol & drugs, but people still choose to play Russian Roulette.
Brian, England

At first, I was concerned when my youngster came home from school in tears after a "Drugs Education" lesson. But then I thought that fear is a wonderful thing. It stops me from jumping off high buildings, leaping in front of buses and sticking my fingers into live electrical sockets. Let's ensure that we are scared stiff over these products and the people who push them.
Martin, UK

I commend the courage of her parents. I sincerely hope that their efforts of trying to discourage young people from drugs will not go in vain. This is a lesson we must all learn from, and to know that for everything we do, there is always a reward.
Jasper E. Dung, USA

Shock tactics do work. I used to have casual feelings towards drug use until one of my friends was put in a box for overdosing on heroin. Now I don't have those casual feelings anymore and am gravely concerned when I find out someone is a user. People don't know about the death aspect unless it is put right in their face.
Jesse Russell, USA

Drug addiction is a symptom not a cause and until we all realize that there will be no lasting solution.

Allan, USA
My 23 year old is a recovering drug addict. My wife and I have been living through this for six years. It is very easy to blame someone else, the Government, the Dealers, the school system etc. Until you look in the mirror and take account of the family situation you are in denial. Most children experiment, we did as kids it is part of growing up. The issue is why does one child go beyond experimentation and not have the ability or desire to recognize that it is destructive to them if they continue. The answer is that there are other issues in play in their lives and their family circumstances. Most addicts are doing it to null the pain they feel inside and to escape from reality. the biggest misconception is that they do it to feel good. They actually feel NOTHING and that is what they want. To FEEL NOTHING to escape. Drug addiction is a symptom not a cause and until we all realize that there will be no lasting solution.
Allan, USA

This young woman should have been afforded dignity in her moment of death, not splashed across the newspapers-sensational pictures do not scare people into not taking drugs - this is voyeurism at its worst.
Elaine Smith, UK

I am a former heroin user and have known many junkies over the years. In my particular circle all the people I did smack with were middle class, well educated and working in good jobs. Many of us had habits spanning several years and none of us ever needed to steal or hurt anyone else to feed our habits. No one wants to hear this, however, because it goes against everything the government and media ever tell you (I will be very surprised to see this online!)

The reality is that if heroin is taken (relatively) safely; i.e. smoked, the dose can be well managed and it is very difficult to OD. The problem with this is that it takes more heroin to get the same high than it does by IV. And, as it is so expensive, many poorer junkies can't afford it. Therefore, in my humble opinion, the problem with heroin is in the supply and how clean and affordable that supply is.

Shock tactics do not work. What we need is to ask the question, as a society; Why are young people so sad, bored, disillusioned, spiritually empty or otherwise in pain? What is so wrong with our society that the young feel the need to self-medicate themselves with narcotics? Could it be the greedy, self serving, spiritually dead world that we are creating?

Please stop being so judgemental and look to the greater society as the root of the problem not to the childish and naive excuses of peer pressure and the like. I am sorry that Rachel died but I didn't know her and neither does most of the potential heroin users her parents are trying to reach. So, in truth she is just another dead girl and why should anyone care? Sorry Mr and Mrs Holcroft but that's just the way it is.

As my final word; some people take drugs for fun and recreation and they will usually grow out of it in time. But others take drugs because they are in mental and spiritual pain and they need help to overcome this. And, shock treatment will never work for them. Do you understand?
Lee, USA / ex-UK

The problem is that it is a shock, because sickness and death is something people prefer to sweep under the carpet. If we were constantly reminded of the brutal truth about highly addictive drugs like heroin (which would rapidly hook users into a cycle of addiction whether they were legal or not) and what they do to people's bodies, everybody would take the consequences as read; much like how almost everyone sees a link between drink-driving and fatal car crashes. If we were constantly aware of the consequences of these actions, rather than panicking over it for one day every few years, would the pusher's first 'free sample' look so inviting?
Phil, Yorkshire

I can honestly say that these sorts of pictures, have scared me off the notion of ever trying that drug.

Sea Ansley, Montréal, Canada
I used to do a lot of "designer" drugs, in fact, at one point I used to deal. Though I've completely turned my life around for the better, I haven't forgotten that period in my life, I have drawn from it and moved on.

I can honestly say that these sorts of pictures, and the encompassing bleak emotion from acknowledging that the girl crumpled in a ball is dead from heroin, have scared me off the notion of ever trying that drug. Perhaps its because that¿s probably the one major drug I haven't tried at some point, but I can honestly say that any prior inclination of mine to perhaps try heroin one day in the future has passed.

People have to learn lessons themselves; they can't be told something is bad until they can formulate an opinion for themselves. Arguing otherwise is totalitarianism, the process of telling people what is bad and what is not. Things like this (shock tactics) can only help people make their own decisions in life, without having to learn them the hard way, which would be to overdose, and, potentially, die. Real freedom comes with real sacrifices.
Sea Ansley, Montréal, Canada

Why not flood the drugs market with a harmless substitute that does something visible - like turn your skin bright purple. The people taking drugs would firstly be pretty humiliated, but more importantly they could be easily identified and properly treated.
Colin, Switzerland

Shock tactics may help some but in the long term it does not work! My brother died of a drug overdose in 2000. What should be done is to stop the drug dealers on the street that supply the drugs to drug users. Making it hard for people to buy drugs. The drug pushers should get life in prison for supplying drugs and this may have a better reason than shock tactics!!!
Laurie Corcoran, UK

I think that shock tactics should be used not only on the young but also their parents. Many (though certainly not all) drug addicts' families have no idea their child is playing with fire before it's too late. Programs directed at parents might scare THEM into taking more interest in their child's life, even if the teen seems uninterested. If parents pay more attention to their kids (and can stomach the awful truth they may find) then youth drug use would plummet.
Andrew McKenzie, 21, United States

What the parents should have done is to take the government to court for their continued failure to legalise all drugs which could mean control over quality and distribution. Perhaps this poor girl would have been able to talk to her doctor then. With quality and strength control she would not have overdosed accidentally like so many others that the government has condemned to death due to their total inability to act rationally on this issue.
Steve, England

What they are doing is completely unselfish and thoughtful

Angela Hutton, UK/RSA
Shock tactics are the best way - no one seems to take notice when the soft approach is used. Unless people are shown the direct result then they will still think it won't hurt. Everybody has a choice, so they had better think about which one they are making. Nobody made you do it - you did it! Rachel's parents are extremely brave, I am not sure that I would have to guts to face the truth like them. I think what they are doing is completely unselfish and thoughtful.
Angela Hutton, UK/RSA

During my time at university, I attended to someone my age who had suffered a heroin overdose in our house. He died. What happened that day will forever haunt me. Especially what it was like to describe his death to his mother and father. I admire Mick and Pauline Holcroft's courage in being so open about a deeply personal and painful set of events. Will it work? If this publicity prevents one family from having to bear such a horrendous tragedy, then it should be considered as an unqualified success. I think it will succeed, and I pray that the Holcroft's gain some comfort from that fact.
JJ McChesney, UK

Ridicule would be far more effective than shock tactics

Mike S, UK
This will seem very harsh, but I believe that ridicule would be far more effective than shock tactics. No-one wants to feel that they're a laughing stock. If drugs were regarded as something for pathetic, uncool losers rather than a massive threat to society I believe we would see a huge reduction in use. There's very little peer pressure to make yourself look a fool.
Mike S, UK

The real problem is the mixed messages we are getting about drugs, with a more tolerant approach to cannabis on the one hand and extreme warnings about heroin on the other. One drug is more dangerous than the other but we should adopt the same attitude to all drugs.
Paul, UK

Education about drugs is key. We receive the message that all banned drugs are evil, but then many young people find by experimentation that some of the softer drugs are not that bad. How can they then distinguish which drugs not to go near? Certain drugs are extremely bad news, and our youth need to be told what their effects are. Poor education has been going on for so long in this country that only a small percentage of the population can actually distinguish different drugs and what they do.

We need to show our children that it's cool to pick up litter and join the scouts

Martin, UK
I do not think that shock tactics will have the desired effect these days. The boundary of acceptable behaviour has been pushed and pushed so that everything appears to be tolerated. We need to show our children that it's cool to pick up litter and join the scouts and that skipping school, getting drunk, smoking whatever, having sex and stabbing 10 year olds is not fashionable, big or hip.
Martin, UK

Offending a person won't kill them; failing to inform them may do!
Simon, Brighton, England

The safest way of preventing heroin deaths is to decriminalise the drug

Kim Thomas, UK
No, of course they won't work. The government has poured money over the years into warning teenagers about the dangers of smoking and the numbers of teenage smokers is higher than ever. Shock tactics about the dangers of heroin (anyone remember the "Heroin really screws you up" advert?) won't work either. What kills most heroin users is not the heroin but the unpleasant substances it is cut with. The safest way of preventing heroin deaths is to decriminalise the drug. But that's not going to happen...
Kim Thomas, UK

However tragic, pictures like these won't stop people doing it as people have an unbalanced assessment of risk. People still drive their cars too fast though people are mangled in car crashes every day. People don't fly because they perceive it to be dangerous when the drive to the airport is probably more risky. People will still take drugs because they think they're too clever to get hooked. You only take note when someone you know is affected.
Steve, UK

If you take drugs then you know this is what can happen. I feel sorry for her parents and not for her.
Jonathon Harrod, England

Shock tactics numb us to their true meaning over time

Ed Vista, UK
While a portion of people will be shocked, others will still assume the bullet-proof stance that many teenagers take. Prolonged use of shock tactics will also numb us to their true meaning over time. If used for a short campaign, then I think they will be effective to a degree.
Ed Vista, UK

Shock tactics appeal to society, but the reaction that is required is never the one gained. Society will talk about it but it does not sink in. It needs to happen to someone close before you realise the consequences. Fright factors can work by increasing the punishment for offences.
Steven Pennesi, UK

A better message that addicts, or those who might experiment, need to hear is that there are things to live for. Trying to bring fear to those who are already in trouble is pretty negative and more importantly, dangerous.
Andrew Witham, UK

The Holcroft family are incredibly brave

Oliver Richardson, UK
Looking over someone's shoulder on the tube I was definitely shocked to see it. At primary school in the late 70s, we would get a visit twice a year from a policeman who would warn us about glue sniffing, giving us medical facts about how it affected your brain and showing us photographs of dead teenagers. People went on to smoke, drink, take drugs, but I don't know anyone that sniffed glue. I think the Holcroft family are incredibly brave.
Oliver Richardson, UK

The picture will make drug-taking seem cooler and more rebellious

Joe, UK
This sort of thing just creates a moral panic that obscures the complexity of drug-taking in this country. It then only serves to make it seem more attractive to people who feel marginalized from society. The picture itself should put people off but the moralising will surely make drug-taking seem cooler and more rebellious to some.
Joe, UK

The question of shock tactics is not the issue. It is a fact that many heroin addicts die as a result of their habit. This fact should not be emphasised enough when educating people about drugs. Heroin makes a misery of the addict's life, and very possibly will end that life.

We should show the real awfulness of the drug

Martin, Ireland
The only people who could be offended are those who either support hard drug use or those who'd rather people died than view something unpleasant. We should show the real awfulness of the drug, especially to kids and not rely simply on a 'mother knows best so don't do it' morality that will not hold wilful teenagers in check. Many teenagers who are not afraid of upsetting their families ARE afraid of dying in extreme pain, so go for the message that actually works by all means. And finally, all my love to the poor parents of this poor foolish girl. God bless.
Martin, Ireland

How, when children are constantly surrounded by what the older generation may consider 'shocking' images (films, the internet etc), can we expect modern youths to be warned off drugs by such pictures as that of tragic Rachel Whitear? The answer must surely lie in some form of drug decriminalisation?
Charles Keen, UK

Surely the image will stick in people's minds and encourage everyone that it is better not to go down the route at all

Garry, England
I agree shock tactics might not discourage the casual user, but surely the image will stick in people's minds and encourage everyone that it is better not to go down the route at all. I for one have never smoked because at school I was shown a cancerous lung which put me off for life. If these pictures help one person that is worth it. There has to be a multi-targeted approach deterring use where possible before people start and then providing support and counselling for those who start.
Garry, England

It is very sad when something like this happens and my sympathy goes out to the parents, but where are the shocking pictures of the 30,000 people who die each year through alcohol?! Why does society turn a blind eye to the enormous amount of deaths due to drinking, yet exclaims horror when there is a drugs-related death? It's just plain crazy.
Jon Doody, UK

I'm sure that shock tactics work in some cases, and I truly hope that they do stop others from taking drugs. However, we shouldn't rely on these tactics alone - children will take drugs out of curiosity. Simply saying "don't take drugs" has no effect, as time has borne out.
Tom, England

Although education about drugs is important, I think educating young people especially our own children about the culture in which drugs are involved is just as important and probably more effective. I'm now 24 and I'm glad to say I've never even been offered drugs like heroin let alone been around users of them. I'm sure the Holcrofts regret the contact Rachel had with her addict boyfriend. I'm not saying that people will not have a problem if they're kept away from the influence of drug culture as I'm sure there are those who pursue drugs independently, I just speak from experience when I say that I've never had the wish to take drugs and I've never had friends who do or would pressure me into doing so.
Jon Matthews, UK

No-one plans to be a junkie, no smoker plans to die of cancer

John, UK
No - no-one plans to be a junkie, no smoker plans to die of cancer, it will just be seen as government propaganda by potential users and users. I don't think that the parents should have allowed these pictures to be used - even junkies deserve some respect in death. It, sadly, won't stop one more overdose or death.
John, UK

I think shock tactics can help some addicts give up. Looking at pictures of diseased lungs helped me to shock myself into stopping smoking two years ago after 25 years of smoking. I found the pictures on the internet.
Paula, UK

No. Shock tactics rarely work as the human rationalisation response ("it won't happen to me") is usually paramount. If it weren't, no-one would smoke, join the armed forces or even drive a car.
Baz Austin, Ireland

Rachel's unfortunate death is of course not the last. It probably has its roots in our society that believes that if you work hard and long hours, happiness is yours; you will never get ill or have an accident. It's a myth believed by most adults as well as children. Both my teenagers have been offered drugs frequently at school (and a good school at that). Some schools teachers are spending more time searching desks and children for drugs than teaching. Welcome to our brave new world in Britain today.
Anthony, UK

We have proved to ourselves that pictures of lungs destroyed by smoking, livers destroyed by alcohol, and Leah Betts on life support simply don't work. Destruction at source of heroin and those who distribute it is the only real solution.
Alan Green, Germany

As the father of a wonderful son who tragically died as the result of alcohol abuse (of which we were effectively unaware until it was too late), who like this poor lass, died alone and lay undiscovered for more than a week - I feel strongly that society does not know how to deal with these problems - it is no use preaching to the person who has become addicted - many of them are now adult and thus responsible for their own actions, but they need help and for sure they are not getting it before it is too late!
Ian Aisbitt, UK

Although the sensationalist pictures of Rachel Whitear are terribly moving, my feeling is that they will do little to discourage those drawn to heroin addiction. Leah Betts' death and the more recent pictures of the poor girl haemorrhaging have not discouraged a million regular ecstasy users.
Paul Darby, England

Yes, I agree that shock tactics work - take for instance the horrible pictures the Daily Mail used of Daniella Westbrook with her septum missing a few years ago - that definitely shocked a lot of people.
Kate, UK

This soft approach won't work

Mike, UK
Until the government wakes up to the fact that do-gooders are ruining society then this or any other soft approach won't work. Having worked in prison with drug addicts I can testify that people can come off drugs. Addiction is for the most part in the mind. I can hear the howls of protest, but like any other addiction - alcohol, food, cigarettes - the weak-willed will always cling to research that says it is hard to stop. So will this shock tactic work - no. The only thing that will work is to bring back the social values and the right of teachers and parents to instil and apply them. Self-respect is the only value that is lacking in the addicts of today.
Mike, UK

I don't think it does much of either but it could just be the one image that might make someone stop and think that little bit longer and with drug taking that can mean a great difference. Drug taking although seen as a social activity (like drinking) is ultimately a very personal choice and with that choice comes the "it won't happen to me" mentality. Ultimately in each individual's case it's the question of if the highs outweigh the lows and most times the highs win.
Richard, UK

Schools have a role in teaching children about drugs but shouldn't rely on shock tactics alone. Children need to be taught that they can say no and have the strength to resist peer pressure. This is the kind of approach my school used towards sex education - that you don't have to be pressured into doing something. But also, children must be taught about the highs as well as the lows of drugs. After all, if drugs are all bad why would anyone take them? Children are more likely to heed balanced, un-condescending information than a "you must not do that" approach.

Shock tactics can only hinder the chances of society addressing the drug problem seriously

Gareth, UK
Can we not have a sensible debate on drug use without reverting to the shock tactics of individual cases? All this tends to do is lead to a depressingly predictable and hypocritical 'let's get tough on drugs' attitude (as seen after Leah Betts' death) which never has and never will solve anything. The death of Rachel is truly tragic, but we have to accept that shock tactics can only hinder the chances of society addressing the drug problem seriously.
Gareth, UK

It is unfortunately naive to think that these kinds of shock tactics have a real impact. Most addicts start off casually thinking they'll just try it once, no-one intends to become addicted and die. Young people will still be foolish enough to try drugs despite the horror stories because they will all resort to the same justification: "It won't happen to me."
Rob, UK

This picture should act as a starting point to discuss drugs

Anne, UK
This picture should act as a starting point to discuss drugs with children. No one would like to think of themselves steeped in squalor,alone and afraid. It serves as a reminder that you are ruining your own life but also leaving behind a terrible last memory for those who tried to love and protect you.
Anne, UK

Yes, I think shock tactics work. I have seen heroin addicts (for real, not pictures) and it certainly shocked me.
Hilary Hornek, Malaysia

Here's hoping that they do. This is a very brave step for this poor girl's parents to take. My heart goes out to them along with my utmost respect and admiration. If they can prevent just one child from going down the same route and prevent just one set of parents from having to go through what they've gone through then surely it's got to be worth doing.
Andy, UK

I feel that shock tactics are maybe the only tactic left to use

Martin, UK
I feel that shock tactics are maybe the only tactic left to use. It is no use the government trying to tell people what to do, as who listens to a bunch of hypocrites? However the problem will sadly not be eradicated from society using this tactic, as people involved in heroin do not make that decision. It seems that there is a problem with people's understanding of a heroin addict, it's not their minds that tell them to take heroin, it is largely their lifestyle, poverty, boredom and lack of self-esteem. It becomes a vicious circle of finding money - scoring - the high - the come down. There is no real answer to the problem of drugs in society as there are arguments for and against legalisation. However if we keep the status quo, then the problem will continue to spiral, no matter what tactic is used.
Martin, UK

Seeing these pictures certainly brought home to me the reality of what drug addiction can do to a person. These photographs provide graphic evidence of what we hear about but are not able to envisage for ourselves without first-hand experience.
Damian Elsen, UK

Yes, shock tactics do work. I work in the health service where we often deal with drug overdose victims, who end up permanently disabled. People need to realise what damage they can do to themselves.
Suzanna Simms, England

Young people often feel they are immortal, or at least immune from harm

Patrick, UK
Young people often feel they are immortal, or at least immune from harm. It's part of a young person's scene to join in with whatever their peers are doing. As a young boy, we all wanted motorbikes, and it was only the death of one of our peers in a motorbike accident that made us think twice. Sadly, peer pressure being what it is, young people will take more notice seeing their peers harmed or dead than they will from mere advice given by 'grown-ups'.
Patrick, UK

Leah Betts' name is still remembered seven years after her death by many over the age of 20, but I doubt whether many 14-year-olds will have heard of her. Shock tactics on where hard drugs can lead have to be used again and again for each new generation.
Chris Guiver, England

If addicts were asked whether they knew drugs were dangerous, addictive and bad for health before they started using, they would surely all answer that they DID know. But still they become addicted, for many different reasons, ranging from having nothing else to do, through desperation, or through having just tried it once and becoming hooked without wanting to or thinking that they would. The power of peer pressure is also huge. So while I hope that this terribly sad case results in fewer people taking drugs, my fear is that it will not, and that it is the supply of drugs and the drug dealers which need to be targeted in earnest.
Jon Cooper, UK

I would say yes. I remember watching an operation at school to remove a cancerous lung black with tar from smoking. Three of my class mates stopped smoking that day including one who rushed from the room to be sick!
Simon Grout, England

As a mother of a 20-year-old son I can say that the attitude of a lot of young people I know is "I'm going to live forever, it wouldn't happen to me." I can remember having a similar feeling of immortality when young. If a teenager is considering taking drugs, these pictures might put them off ever contemplating it. Any others already hooked, or in that kind of culture probably would still take them. I do agree with the papers that if it even saves one life, it is worth it, but is it really just done for that reason, or am I just cynical that is it is in the end mainly to sell newspapers?
Cindy, United Kingdom

I think that the message needs to be sustained

Chris Glover, Northern Ireland
I believe that these shock tactics do work, but, I think that the message needs to be sustained. Teenagers have a short memory at the best of times and it is not enough just to show them shock tactics once and hope that it works, continued education is the key. It seems though that there is an uphill struggle when it comes to educating the young when there are so many films that glamorise drug taking without showing the possible consequences.
Chris Glover, Northern Ireland/Belgium

No they won't work. Most people think that this kind of thing will only ever happen to someone else, and never to themselves
Peter, UK

The Holcroft family should be praised for a very brave decision to share the harrowing photos of their daughter's body. Many people have the urge to experiment with narcotics - it's in our nature as humans to try new things - but hopefully this will send out a clear warning that there are different levels of danger and that younger members of society will realise there is a massive difference between having a joint and injecting themselves with heroin.
Alasdair Scott, UK

Shock tactics have a place in informing people about the dangerous effects of drugs providing they show an accurate picture of what can happen. However this has to be linked with information on the true risks of various drugs. By overstating the risks of some drugs people then don't believe what is said about other drugs which can cause people to become ill-informed which can lead to them taking drugs they would otherwise not.
Andrew MacDonald, USA

See also:

01 Mar 02 | Education
Heroin victim's death used as warning
14 Jan 02 | Education
Drug users not always expelled
06 Nov 01 | Health
Call to 'legalise' heroin
28 Mar 00 | Scotland
Leah parents reject drugs report
01 Mar 02 | Education
Shock drugs lessons 'do not work'
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