The Miseducation Of Drug Use

Source: rachaelvoorhees/ Flikr

Source: rachaelvoorhees/ Flikr

Antonia questions the lack of education we are given in school on drugs and how it results in taboo and social stigma.

When I was in school, my educational introduction to drugs was non-existent.

When I was in school, my educational introduction to drugs was non-existent. I faintly remember being told by our RE teacher (who was also a nun), who digressed during our lesson, to tell us that drugs are bad for you, highly addictive and destroy your future prospects. This is the education of drugs most young people get at school, which leaves a crucial gap in our knowledge. It lacks empathy. And most importantly, it’s scary.

Our formative drug education seems far too removed from reality. It fails to teach us how it can affect real people in real situations. We learn about the worst possible consequences. Well, I did anyway. I was told that doing drugs will mean you end up on the street with no friends, no family and nothing but an insatiable greed to do anything to feed your habit. Or so we’re told. This seems like a scare tactic. It doesn’t leave much room for conversation. Drug use thus becomes taboo.

‘Three in ten teachers favour ‘hard-hitting messages’, which can have a negative impact. Less than half of teachers use ‘challenge myths and misconceptions’, a key component of quality drug education…’ www.mentoruk.org.uk

In my experience, by the time we reach an age where our peers start experimenting, they haven’t had the important conversations they need to have.

In the face of such negativity, it’s easy to see how we end up in silos around drug use. You’re either a hardline believer that all substance use will put you on street. You can’t even bring yourself to look in the eyes of friends who are weekend partakers. Or you’ve normalised your usage, to the point where long-term side effects are easy to ignore. Like the disturbing pictures of cancerous black lungs on cigarette packets. How many smokers have gazed into those photos and thought, maybe this is not for me? Hardly any. These shock tactics give us a blind spot. They become easy to ignore.

Where is the happy medium between the hardline judge and the hardline weekend partier?

‘Low frequency of drug education delivery: 48% students received drug education once per year or less.’ www.mentoruk.org.uk

I think that whatever reason people decide they need to take drugs, it would be more constructive to showing the effects of ‘normalised drug use’ by opening up a conversation about it. This would equip young people to make more informed choices as to whether or not they want to experiment. If we can do away with the Gateway Drug Theory, that experimentation doesn’t necessarily lead to addiction. Equally, experimenting with drugs is not necessarily a ‘normal’ rite of passage.

Portugal made the decision to decriminalise the possession of drugs in 2001. Decriminalisation is not the same as legalisation. Decriminalisation rids the offence of criminal penalties. In Portugal, if you are caught with less than 10 days’ supply on your person, it is dealt with as a public health issue as opposed to a criminal offence. This reform says a lot about the way the country’s attitude to drug use differs from the UK.

Decriminalisation shows willingness and openness to accept that drug use is real and embedded in the lives of real, ordinary people. It’s an issue that relates to our wellbeing as opposed to the social stigma surrounding it.

‘The proportion of drug-related offenders in the Portuguese prison population also declined, from 44% in 1999, to just under 21% in 2012.’ www.tdpf.org.uk 2013

It’s a natural part of the human condition to ignore or test authority. This is why we still smoke despite the amount of evidence that points towards cancer. This is why we continue to have unprotected sex [get free condoms here FYI], wash chicken, fail to meticulously recycle. We need to be honest when we talk about drug use, as extreme language infers extreme behaviour.

If young people are encouraged to ask questions about drug use then we can find better ways of delivering an effective message about the effects of drug use.

If I could, I’d go back and give my younger self a lowdown on what is out there, what effects they have and how people take it. I’d assure myself that it’s okay to ask questions and to be curious and that not all drug users are gangsters bandits. Most importantly, I’d tell myself not to buy into the mainstream media’s portrayal of drug users, as it is reductive, stereotypical and limiting. This basic education should really be part of the PSHE curriculum simply to raise awareness and equip students to make well-informed decisions and avoid the risk of falling into habits they didn’t know more about until they lived it.

Do you think you’re being taught enough in school? Join in the conversation on Twitter @Rifemag

For further support and advice get in touch with Bristol Drugs Project via Rife Guide.