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April 17, 2007 - The Times (UK)

Column: We're Fighting On The Wrong Front In The 'Drugs War'

A Problem Has Many Causes

By Martin Samuel

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

This is my favourite drugs story. A friend of mine, a DJ, let's call him Mick, had a very busy weekend planned. He was playing a gig in Scotland on Friday and then returning for a booking at the Lakota in Bristol. Mick's wife (they were recently married) was up for the West Country trip. The Lakota had quite a reputation. She made him promise he would take it easy on Friday, so they could have a big night out on Saturday. He agreed.

Unfortunately, getting Mick to rein it in when unaccompanied in Glasgow is a bit like ordering Keith Moon to have only a swift half. The following morning he was sitting on the redeye to London, having not been to bed, when he found a tab of acid in his pocket, thoughtfully donated as part of a small shipment of uppers, downers and hallucinogens by the promoter. With the keen judgment of a man that has not slept for 48 hours and is not likely to for the next 48, he necked it, washed down with a glass of complimentary BA orange juice.

By the time Mick entered Heathrow's terminal one he was in an advanced state of mental disrepair. It was at this moment that he chose to telephone home. His newlywed wife, remember, was eagerly expecting her man (relatively) bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in readiness for the drive west and a night of mutual hedonism.

Instead, having at last correctly identified that he was at an airport of some kind, after a very long pause during which he appeared to be wrestling with the significance of this discovery, Mick asked the following question.

"Should I get on a plane to play the gig, or have I played it and I'm coming home?"

I love that story: the man who quite literally did not know if he was coming or going. I said it was about drugs but it mainly concerns the inability of the male species to be trusted unsupervised for five minutes. No one was harmed in the making of it, either. Mick went on to be part of a pop group that penned one of the most instantly recognisable hits of the past 20 years. His wife is a successful businesswoman. The marriage did not last but then you probably could have guessed this.

Considering that, for instance, in the 25 to 29-year-old band more people have tried drugs than not, you might have similar tales or experiences. Not a raised eyebrow in the house, then. And, right there, is the problem with our war on drugs. For the majority, chemical encounters fall in line with those of the late comedian, Bill Hicks. "Didn't murder anybody, didn't rob anybody, didn't rape anybody, didn't beat anybody, didn't lose one job, laughed my ass off, and went about my day. Sorry. Now where's my commercial?"

We are losing the war against drugs, a report by the UK Drugs Policy Commission will announce this week, which is strange because that means drugs are winning. Must be those smart drugs we keep reading about. Either that or the war is being won by people on drugs, which is an even greater humiliation than being fitted for a Crimplene suit by the Tehran branch of Mister Byrite. Imagine that. Beaten by a platoon full of potheads. You wouldn't want to be the general in charge of that mission.

We are told we have a drug problem, but we do not. We have a poverty problem; an education problem; an intelligence problem; a homelessness problem; a refugee community problem; an opportunity problem. We have a lousy life problem. This is then exacerbated by drug use. Drugs as an escape; drugs as an alternative.

There is a difference between one kid popping a pill to pep up Saturday night and another sitting around smoking crack all day, while drifting from truancy to unemployment and crime. The war against drugs fails to differentiate. Everybody becomes a drug user, as if all drugs are the same, all use is the same, all situations, lifestyles and choices are the same.

In 2005, a survey in Student magazine found that 75 per cent of undergraduates using Ecstasy in Edinburgh regarded it as a positive influence in their lives. Do you think the 50 per cent of homeless people that admitted heroin use, in a recent Home Office study, feel the same way?

We are told drugs are not a social problem because the figures on use by social class remain largely the same across every report. Yet problematic drug use, which is the key here, lurches wildly according to social status, educational and career opportunities.

A study in Scotland recorded that there were 460 hospital admissions per 10,000 people for drug use in the ten most-deprived areas of the country, that figure dropping to 20 per 10,000 for the ten least-deprived. Of the known drug users in Scottish prisons 953 per 10,000 came from the 27 most-deprived council wards, against 237 per 10,000 from the least.

The UK Drugs Policy Commission intends to find which of the government schemes and initiatives work. In short? None of them. Talk to Frank? Talk to this finger. There is UKP9 million down the tubes for a start. Who would want to talk to Frank? Is that brat jumping on the bed Frank? Then who is Frank? I bet it's that b in the Halifax adverts. He looks the type.

Popular logic states we need to educate young people about drugs. No, we need to educate them about education. We need to raise those standards and, by doing so, create opportunities and intellects that may see drugs as a diversion, but not a career, and certainly nothing requiring a declaration of war.

Encapsulating the malaise that creates problematic drug culture is MC Nuts, the ludicrous concept of Cumbrian tourism, whose rap version of William Wordsworth's Daffodils (I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud), is intended to entice youngsters to the Lake District. MC Nuts, by the way, is a 6ft squirrel, who raps beside Ullswater. "More than 10,000 I see in my retina / No more than a glance then I register they're beautiful etcetera . . ."

And you know the irony? William Wordsworth was quite possibly high on drugs. Laughed his ass off and went about his day. He had a purpose, you see.

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