Comment Writer Jadzia Samuel argues that the Guild of Students goes unrecognised by many students, and suggests how this can changeWritten by Jadzia on 19th March 2018
Why the War on Drugs is Unwinnable
Music Editor Issy Campbell explores the necessity of education and decriminalisation surrounding the safe use of recreational drugs
One of the biggest life lessons we are taught in our adolescence is that our actions have consequences. We are taught the importance of staying safe in the big wide world as we grow up and become legally entitled to do what a lot of us had been doing already. Whether that is listening to talks on the need to drink responsibly, the importance of a healthy diet, or the cringe-worthy lessons on how to engage in safe sex, we are educated on real issues we may face.
But, what are we taught about drugs?
The message from school was loud and clear: drugs are bad. It teaches you about the hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, and how they will almost certainly kill you. But that’s it. They merely scratch the surface of a far deeper issue. And yes, whilst it is true that drugs can have lifelong effects and taking them can put your life at risk; so can drinking alcohol, having a bad diet or partaking in unsafe sex.
“And yes, whilst it is true that drugs can have lifelong effects and taking them can put your life at risk; so can drinking alcohol, having a bad diet or partaking in unsafe sex
Why is it that we are educated on these issues, but drug usage is so swiftly overlooked? The criminalised status of drugs means that discussing them openly, how to use them safely, and what you should do when things do not go as planned, are made a complete taboo. I am firmly of the belief that as long as drugs are available, people will take them, illegal or not. Education is paramount to our safety. If we know the harm of what we are using, we can think again about what, and how much of it, we are putting into our body. Websites like pill report, and YouTube channels like drugslab are there if you know about them, but that is not enough.
Norway’s government recently voted to decriminalise drugs in December last year, showing a forward-thinking approach to the issue. Although hard drugs like cocaine and heroin are still prohibited in the Netherlands, this soft approach is far more sensible than the UK’s complete intolerance. Allowing open discussion and acceptance towards drugs means people can understand them more.
“I am firmly of the belief that as long as drugs are available, people will take them, illegal or not
In 2001, the popular European holiday destination, Portugal, decriminalised all drugs, hard and soft. Possessing a small quantity of drugs in Portugal is seen as a public health issue, not a criminal one. This has had an incredible effect in enhancing safe drug usage. In 2015 the independent reported that there were only on average 3 deaths caused by drug overdosing to every 1 million citizens in Portugal, compared to the EU’s average of 17.3 per million. On the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction’s website, the data from Portugal is far more positive than that of the UK’s.
The ‘war on drugs’ is an unnecessary one, with a solution lying in decriminalisation and education. This negative stigma attached to drug-usage is outdated and narrow minded, we must learn to be more accepting if we want to prevent deaths and incorrect usage.
Having said this, the UK does offer vital services like needle and syringe programmes, as well as heroin-assisted treatment, but this only scratches the surface of what we should and could be providing.
“The UK does offer vital services like needle and syringe programmes, as well as heroin-assisted treatment, but this only scratches the surface of what we should and could be providing
Key to this ongoing struggle is Loop, a charity co-founded by Fiona Measham and Wilf Gregory striving to educate us about drugs. They work at events and festivals testing drugs brought to them, be it powders, crystals or pills, and tell you exactly what is in them. They do not confiscate anything and it is completely confidential, with no need to give any of your details over to the authorities. This vital and forward-thinking services means, if you purchased a gram of what you thought was MDMA, Loop can test it to find out not only if it is safe, but if it is even MDMA, allowing you to make an informed and safe decision about whether you want to take it. Even if it is not what you were expecting to find, you are still under no obligation to hand it over, although this would be highly advised. Using the dangerous drugs that are handed over to them, they can inform the police exactly what to be looking out for, this then helps authorities to warn other party-goers about a very possible and real danger. The key to safe drug usage is awareness, and Loop is here providing just that.
We should not be ashamed about having a good time, whether you use drugs or not. In the past, I did not have such an open acceptance to drug-usage, because I was convinced what school had taught me was right: that drugs were bad. I did not need drugs to have a good time, so other people should not either. But as I have grown up, I have learnt that stance is evidently naïve. We should not brand all drug-users as criminal - drugs can obviously be dangerous, but this is exactly why we need to be educated about them.
“The government are fighting an unwinnable battle and until we can get mainstream education to the masses, they are going to continue to keep losing
Decriminalisation is a difficult subject, made harder by the fact no one wants to talk about it. We should not be punishing institutions, like Fabric or our very own Rainbow, for the actions of those outside of our control. Instead we should be working with them to promote a safe environment where people can use services like Loop to stay safe and stay educated. We cannot prevent deaths just by closing down the places in which drugs are taken and councils must recognise that is not the way forward. The government are fighting unwinnable battle and until we can get mainstream education to the masses, they are going to continue to lose; accidents will still happen and the safety of millions of people will still continue to be at risk.
It is time we leave behind this old-fashioned approach, and follow in the steps of the Netherlands, Portugal and Norway.