I'm veering into local politics today, although there's some application to the wider world. Most afternoons as I drive home from work I listen to Triple J on the radio. For non-Australian readers Triple J is a little hard to explain, I'm not sure of any international equivalents. It's a nation-wide, non-commercial, youth-oriented network. It's government owned so it's paid for out of tax dollars not advertising which means they can be a lot more "out there" than mainstream stations. They have a half-hour current affair program called "Hack" that runs Monday to Friday at about the time I'm usually driving home so most days I listen to it.
The stories they cover can be quite interesting and lately they've run a few stories on some unusually intelligent seminars being held on the topic of illicit drugs. One was an academic forum that dared to raise the topic of "people do drugs because it's fun". The other was a government inquiry that seemed to be headed by a conservative politician who actually wanted some honest insight from young drug users about their experiences and some input on what might work in the realm of education/enforcement/harm minimisation.
I'll tell you what's always made me angry about drug policy here (and most overseas drug policy we hear about) – it's based on lies. And young people know it's lies. They know "old people" and authority figures (parents, teachers, cops, politicians) lie to them all the time. You see an anti drug campaign saying "ooo drugs are bad, you'll ruin your life, take drugs once and you could die from an overdose." You look around and see in real life lots of people are doing drugs with no apparent problems. It's easy to find evidence that prohibition doesn't work, that corrupt cops and politicians are involved in the drug trade, that alcohol and cigarettes cause way more damage to society than illegal drugs. So you come to the obvious conclusion:
They're all talking shit and I shouldn't listen to anything they say.
When you know most of what you're being told about the risks of drug-taking is bullshit, it's a short leap to thinking everything you're being told is bullshit. "I don't have to listen to anything they say because it's all crap, I can do speed and ecstasy all weekend for years on end with no side-effects and give up whenever I want." And so these young, immortal people put themselves in harms way because it's so fucking hard to get some honest advice on what you should and shouldn't do. Your parents say "don't do any drugs ever" and your friend say "let's do drugs all the time" and, well, your friends are way cooler than your parents and you don't wanna look uncool so what way do you go?
I have a slightly unusual history with drugs. I didn't do them at all in school or college. College was a bit of a struggle because I went to major party college where people were doing drugs all the time. I was probably offered drugs for free a couple of times every week while I was at college. I also didn't drink alcohol at all while I was at college. My excuse – I was weird enough without artificial additives. Truth be told, I was more than a little worried how I would behave. Anyone reading this blog might notice I have… strange thought processes. I have always been this way. I was more than a little worried how far I might go off the rails if I took drugs.
I did get into drugs and partying in my 20s, not in a particularly excessive way but I had a lot of fun. I decided to stop altogether when my first-born arrived. I hated the idea that there might come a time she was dependent on me and I couldn't help her because I was fucked up on drugs. It was strange to me (ironic?) that some people who applauded this decision were pretty serious drinkers and of course they couldn't help their child if they were drunk. Back to the central hypocrisy issue I guess.
Anyway, my honest drugs policy? Listen up kids:
Most people do drugs because it's fun. There are lots of other reasons people take drugs; painful experiences (physical or emotional), feeling desperate, as a response to abuse, that old standby "peer pressure" (although I think this is hugely over-emphasised by those damn old people). But if you ignore the fun factor you aren't being honest.
Most people who do drugs don't get addicted. Some do, and addiction is really fucked. It's perfectly possible to recover from addiction but you probably will fuck up your life in the meantime. There are levels of addiction. Some drugs are worse for addiction, as in you're more likely to get addicted and the effects of addiction are worse. The warning signs: if you're saying things like "I can't have fun without drugs (or alcohol)" or "I have to take way more than I used to just to get a buzz" you're in trouble. Stop. Simple as that. Stop taking them for a while. You get two good effects: one, your body recovers and you might realise you don't actually need to take them any more. Two, if you go back to using after a while it will be more fun. Sorry if that upsets anyone but it's true.
Despite the scare tactics bullshit it is actually possible that a single dose of drugs can kill you, or at least put you in a really bad situation. Quite frankly, a lot of people who take drugs are filthy fucking skeezes or at least halfway decent people who act like filthy fucking skeezes when they're on drugs. If somebody is trying to coerce you into taking drugs and you're not sure – don't do it. It's more than likely anybody who tries to pressure another person into doing drugs is a rotten piece of shit (and to indulge in a stereotype here, I'm thinking mainly of males coercing females). Be safe. Think things through. Don't do drugs alone. Make sure you're with people you can trust. And, like a designated driver, have a designated "clean and sober" person – the one who stops you from choking on vomit and calls the ambulance when it's necessary.
Anyone who takes drugs and is honest knows they can fuck you up. The thing that makes me angry is that authority figures won't admit it's possible to have fun with drugs without fucking up. And so the natural rebellion of youth kicks in. I've seen first hand examples of people descending into smack addiction, having full-on psychotic breaks from speed/amphetamine abuse, damage their brains with acid and well, everyone's seen the pathetic stoner fuck-up who smokes too much dope.
So my policy is that if you're honest about everything (drugs can be fun!) then the health and safety message (drugs can fuck you up!) is more likely to get through. Because it's bloody obvious the current approach isn't working.