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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If the shock factor in these pictures saves one person, they have to be a good thing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Offending a person won't kill them; failing to inform them may do!
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.
If you take drugs then you know this is what can happen. I feel sorry for her parents and not for her.
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.
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.
Oliver Richardson, 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Yes, I think shock tactics work. I have seen heroin addicts (for real, not pictures) and it certainly shocked me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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
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.
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.
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