Drug research is rarely impartial and media articles on drugs are rarely more than judgmental, biased official PR against drugs with little in the way of fresh or even useful information.
Which is why I sat up when I saw this Guardian article on young people and drugs. Guardian and Mixmag have teamed up to produce one of the larger international drug surveys last year with over 15,000 respondents on a range of questions about consumption habits, attitudes etc.
The most important ‘finding’ here, one that most drug users and their friends already know, is that your average white middle-class drug taker is highly functional: holding down jobs, having family and friends, hobbies, relationships, using drugs in order to enhance their lives rather than to destroy it. Many people already know this but I haven’t really seen this published and stated anywhere before, I usually see the opposite, drug takers always depicted as depraved deprived dysfunctional and usually clueless. For many the opposite is true: young professional drug takers are often smart, live very productive lives, make careful and complex decisions about drugs and know both the risks and the benefits.
Still, bowing to mainstream pressure, the Guardian highlights a much more predictable ‘finding’, which is that up to a fifth of drug users will, at some point, knowingly ingest something unknown. The article calls this high risk behaviour and it sure is, wouldn’t we all want to know exactly what is in a drug? Without decriminalisation however there’s no chance anyone will know for sure what they are taking, let alone calibrations and impurities. The logical answer to this is not to condemn risk takers but to ensure we can help minimise the harm. We do this with bungee jumping (safety testing the ropes etc) and flying across the world (safety videos, testing etc) yet why not offer the idea that we could safety test drugs before ingestion, or, even better, manufacture it in a lab so that consumers will be sure of the purity and potency or the product.
But harm minimisation is still a dirty word and as a society we still prefer to simply judge and condemn others who do not share our habits and lifestyle. However there are some good signs: out of this research a phone app was developed that gives judgment free advice to drug takers based on their individual habits. Perhaps this is a first baby step towards true harm minimisation, let’s hope it is (though I’m inclined to be very cynical!)