Been In Essay, Research Paper
How Successful has British Drug s Policy been in
the Battle against Drugs .
Introduction : The Drugs phenomenon
The desire to experience some altered state of consciousness seems to be an intrinsic part of the human condition…we are surrounded by drugs…the cups of coffee and tea, the glasses of beer, wine and whiskey, the snorts of cocaine, the joints, the tablets of acid, the fixes of heroin, and the ubiquitous tranquillisers and sleeping pills…drug taking still remains one of the easiest and most imediate ways of of altering psychological states; for some people the ease and immediacy with which drugs achieve these effects prove particularly seductive. So long as there are drug takers there will be drugs casualties…but the quest to eliminate drug taking has proved to be search for a chimera. Drug taking is here to stay and one way or another we must all learn to live with drugs.
The issue of young people and drug use has attracted an unprecedented amount of public concern and debate during the 1990 s. Yet the debate has been simplistic and has become increasingly distorted and ill informed. There are clear dangers in the blinkered and sometimes irrational attitudes of the British establishment about youth related issues, in particular drugs. There is a current tendency to resort to prejudice and stereotype when trying to deal with this issue and this, claim the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence (ISDD):
…provides a powerful and robust matrix in which these issues are routinely linked. The matrix is mirrored in contemporary political discourse and therefore in emergent public policy.
The young are surrounded by contradictory messages concerning the use of drugs. Politicians have condemned their use and yet actively support and encourage the free market enterprise that both creates and feeds off the drug industry. In the media drugs have become known as the enemy within, yet on television and cinema they are often linked with romance and enjoyment. The high street off licences sell alcohol and cigarettes, two potententially extremely dangerous drugs. Not only is tobacco more addictive than heroin but also is the cause of more fatalities than any other drug. This double standard is reinforced at home when the same adults demonstrate their condemnation of drug use to their children by getting drunk at the office party.
The current drug s scene is often portrayed by politicians and the media as a modern day phenomenon, this is incorrect , heroin from the sap of poppies dates back to 5000 BC. There seems to be a human need to use drugs, seek oblivion or excitement and in essence do dangerous things. If we are to judge a drug as a psyochactive substance that alters the state of mind. then drugs surround us, alcohol, caffeine, beer and cigarettes to name a few are all acceptable drugs. This confused view of drug taking is compounded by history when what we may see as an unacceptable drug today is not tomorrow and visa versa; opium was legal in the last century, yet in the 18th century caffeine was banned.
When in 1994, John Major announced his government s new strategies for tackling drug use among school age children, he insisted on maintaining his distance.. The soundbite on this occasion was yob culture :
No single crime prevention measure would be more significant than success on the front against drugs…People rightly deplore elements of what could be called yob culture…Let us set ourselves an objective to change it…Make a real effort to create anti yob culture.
This negativity towards the young by public policy professionals is further illustrated by the fact that young people as a group are excluded from any collaborative arrangements about drug interventions. There seems therefore little understanding of the divide that separates young people from their professional elders over drugs issues, partly because young people themselves are offered no input into the debate, as they are defined as the objects of change . We are therefore in danger of not using our trump card, in those with the most realistic understanding of the experience of drugs and the drug scene.
There is clearly a need for more rapport between the generations, as drug use in the UK is undergoing dramatic change due to the sheer pace and complexity of recent developments. The pick n mix drug culture that characterises the new kaleidoscopes of drug use and drug careers have left research and professional knowledge behind and the worn down images of drug users portrayed by the media and politicians are no long accurate, if indeed they ever were. The hackneyed notions of users as, societies few unacceptable male, working class, criminal elements can no longer hold water.
Ecstasy scandal at Eaton – two boys have been kicked out of Prince William s school after being caught with deadly Ecstasy tablets. (Mirror, October 19, 1996)
Surveys concerning drug use among adolescents indicates clearly that they are increasingly coming into contact with and using drugs. ( Ecstasy and the dance culture, Nicholas Saunders, 1995 ).This view is supported by the third year of professor Howard Parker s research on the prevalence of drug use in North West by young people aged 16 years and under. He discovered the number experimenting with drugs has now risen to over 50%. It is now the norm for young people to experiment with drugs (Imich, 1995).
Study shows drug taking among school children has trebled…cannabis, ecstasy and speed have become part of life for children as generations that smoked behind bicycle sheds have given way to one in which there is a growing acceptance of recreational drugs…. ( Sunday Times, July 1995 ).
Adolescents of the 1990s are growing up with a higher level of drug availability than ever before and the resolution of the young over whether or not to use drugs is a decision based on personal and peer group choice since the availability of drugs is a normal part of the leisure-pleasure landscape. Their current illicit drugs of choice are marketed in such ways as to make them appear safe, attractive and good value for money; the sorts of qualities we are all encouraged to embrace as we push our trolleys around the supermarket. To give an example of how drugs can be seen as undergoing a process of commodification we can cite the practice of labelling doses, wraps or deals. In Europe and North America labelling has been a long established marketing strategy (Inciardi, 1986) with regards to batches of LSD and ecstasy. Cannabis and heroin have also been reported for sale in London under brand names (Hyder, 1993).
In the next few years, and certainly in urban areas, we are likely to see non-drug trying adolescents in the minority, indeed in one sense they will be deviants . Bland drug education, inconsistent school disciplinary and criminal justice responses and an absence of accessible relevant drug education, prevention and treatment services all serve to widen the gulf between the young and old, user and non user. Political discourse, whether emphasising the rhetoric of blame or alternatively perceiving drugs as synonomous with crime, danger or despair, continues to avoid the essential debate, about a realistic strategy to manage the normalisation of drug use.
Losing touch with youth Culture ?
During the 1970s a critical sociology of youth culture emerged (Mungham and Pearson 1976). It attempted to explain how each generation of youth endeavours collectively to resolve difficulties with image, identity, and role through youth cultural activity, whether it was resistance through rituals, sabotaging menial work, outwitting the police, using drugs, or simply by finding a symbolic style through clothes, hair, music or dance .
Most of the works mentioned above emphasised that youth cultural responses were linked to social structural dysfunctions or disjunctions . Emphasis in the 1980s was the impact of race and gender on the experience of being young and deviant in a post-industrial society With a few notable exceptions , very few social theorists have yet to reconsider youth culture in light of more recent developments. The result of this is a mystery about the way attitudes and perspectives of the young are being affected by rapid social and economic change.
There is a need to explain and link a range of social and economic changes which potentially touch each citizen. The fracture of traditional moral authority, the impact of international communications and transportation, the role of global markets on consumer choice, the emphasis on consumption rather than production, the changing nature of employment and unemployment, the reshaping of class and gender relationships, the formulation of communication between individuals and institutions – all need further explanation.
Contemporary research on leisure, lifestyles and youth is driven by official concerns about community safety, youth unemployment and especially by a preoccupation with health, risk taking and the danger of youth as a transmitter of disease, notably AIDS. The lack of any real research into the meaning of drug use among contemporary youth, especially in its social and economic context, is concerning as we are no nearer to answering key questions such as; is such extensive drug use just a temporary craze, a fashion or fad? Moreover is it going to be confined to this generation or is it the first stage of something far more significant?
If we begin to analyse this generation s engagement with drugs as a form of consumption, a choice in self medication, based on a cost-benefit analysis of what the pleasure market and indeed pain markets can offer, the assumption that the drugs situation in the UK is a soluble social problem may be naive and what we are seeing is in fact a functional and powerful social process. Measham has pointed out some of the features of contemporary youth and their association with drugs . Firstly gender surveys suggest that being female can no longer be seen as a status which somehow prevents or reduces drug trying in adolescence. Similarly social class, once a key variable in understanding deviance, is no longer a primary indicator of illicit drug use. Moreover the high rate of drug use amongst students in the UK is likely to continue to normalise middle class drugtaking .
Secondly, the impact of the global economy helps to create the ready availability of illicit drugs in the social space which young people occupy – the school, the street, the pub, the club and at the friend s house. Similar to smoking and drinking drugs have taken the place of these time-out repetoirs found in these venues, so drugtaking has become commonplace. This overlapping of illegal and legal product markets is consistent with poly-drug use which is developing in the UK. Evidence of this process can be found in drug seizures by customs and in drug agency referral patterns.
Thirdly, it is important to note the way that the use of illicit drugs has become internalised or integrated into official youth culture. Perhaps it was the arrival of rave or pay parties in the late 1980 s that was the watershed whereby drugs moved from subculture status to become mainstream youth culture. One can see this process in youth magazines, music fashion markets and popular language which have all integrated drugs.(see appendix one.)
Finally there seems to be a collapse of distinctions between legal and illegal psychoactive markets. There is strong evidence to suggest a convergence between alcohol and illicit drug use . The perceived, psychoactive effects of both alcohol and illicit drugs are being described by the young using the same terms – to get a buzz so I can get off my head or lose it . It is also clear that the alcohol industry and the drug culture borrow names from each other, for example, Diamond White is the name of a popular brand cider drink but to ecstasy users White Diamond is the name of one of the mid 1990s ecstasy-type dance tablets.
If we add to this the increased availability of illegal drugs, then drugs consumption best depicts what is happening and what is going to happen in the future. Illegal drugs such as ecstasy are grown, manufactured, packaged and marketed through an enterprise culture whereby the legal and illicit markets have merged. Thus if people wish to purchase psychoactive experiences, then they may do so. Such exchanges cannot be prevented given that our society, like other post-industrial societies, requires the same conditions and lack of restriction (upon which the drug economy flourishes) for the effective functioning of the mainstream global economy .
The New Drugs Culture
With the use of all kinds of illegal drugs continually increasing, many social commentators have begun to question the current direction of British drug policy ( Parker and Measham 1994, Mugford 1994 ). When discussing the issue of drug use and its control, a number of different protagonists seem to emerge. These can be defined along a broad spectrum from anti-drug prohibitionists to pro-drug legalisers . There are those who believe in the decriminalisation of drug use in order to control consumption and those who believe in strong arm tactics of heavy terms of imprisonment for those caught dealing in drugs. Moreover certain senior police officers have declared the problem is such that it is now impossible to effectively combat the drug problem, a view shared by Commander John Grieve of the Metropolitan Police.
These opinions stem from both conservative and liberal minded people of all political persuasions. Following highly publicised drugs tragedies we can see these groups and others locked in public battle. The lack of hegemony is made apparent in the Express newspaper (Wednesday February 26, 1997 ), where a predominantly middle class, Tory panel were asked their opinion on the so called Drug s crisis . Responses ranged from the death penalty, heavy jail sentences to better education and rehabilitation.
Some of these responses show just how monolithic and primitive the debate about young people and drug use in the UK has become. This often ambiguous discourse is now shared by politicians and the media. Alternative voices by judges and senior police officers are being increasingly discouraged and muted . This is a dangerous precident because it is protecting and reinforcing a perspective which is constructed from a mixture of prejudice, ignorance and political expediency that assumes the youth is to blame for crime and tainted by drugs. This refusal to appreciate the real lives of the young in terms of setting social policy agendas can only lead to a distorted view of youth culture. The result of which is an alienation between elder professionals and the youth, thus accordingly exacerbating the perceived drugs problem. The fact that drug policy debates are being driven by politics and the media and not by research means that a rational response to the drugs problem is ever more remote.
In Holland people from the drug culture, supported by government funds, go to parties and raves and offer a cheap service for people to test drugs. I m not calling for that in Britain…but we want to see if it is transferable.
However Treasury Minister Angela Knight replied to this proposition:
In some respects the suggestion condones drug taking when drug taking is wrong, it s harmful and causing immense problems for young people and society as a whole.
Many people make the simplistic assumption that drug use is caused by the activities of dealers and traffickers , however most studies conclude that drug use is largely attributable to encouragement by friends. A great deal of evidence suggests that drug use spreads in a friendly and hospitable manner, thus reflecting changes in society.
When in the 1960s youth culture was established, there was a heavy emphasis against the establishment. Invariably the drug use complemented the musical preferences of the user, which was often drug orientated. For instance drugs such as LSD helped the listener appreciate bands such as Pink Floyd. With the demise of the hippie came the punk with their glue and heroin. More recently dance has made a comeback with raves and clubs introducing a raft of new feel good drugs such as ecstasy.
However the drugs culture of the nineties seems to be no longer a tool of rebellion. The market has responded to a demand, as it has been trained to, and drug culture has become another limb of the service sector . The greater availability and packaging of designer drugs, the media attention, the growth of dance music, the popularity of clubbing and the social factors of taking these designer drugs makes experimenting with drugs irresistible to many young people.
This essay is focusing on the drug issue, and whether current British drugs policies are in fact tackling the issue correctly. An estimated one million pills of ecstasy alone are being swallowed at clubs every weekend, and ecstasy has become above all other drugs synonymous with the young in the 1990s, so much so that drug taking seems to be beginning to join the mainstream. As its subsequent use has been steadily increasing in Britain, music, art and cinema are responding and they too are contributing to a growing acceptance.
There are signs of attitudes softening in Britain , the Independent and the Economist have launched a crusade to legalise drugs on the grounds that prohibition is the root cause of about half of all crime, and that present policies simply do not work. Other newspapers too are beginning to realise that they need to adapt their coverage of drugs issues. Following soul searching deaths such as Leah Betts (November, 1995), certain articles recognised the huge amount of normal people who dabbled in illegal substances. They recognised that they had to tread a fine line not to alienate those who disapproved, while understanding the interests of their young readers who were part of the chemical generation. The other newspapers too are beginning to realise that they need to adapt their coverage of drugs issues,. The Observer already wisened to this had increased its sales by 15 per cent when they ran drugs special issues which painted drugs in a positive light. (The Face, April 1997).