Pubdate: Wed,  7 Aug 2002
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Dan Bilefsky, Staff Reporter Of The Wall Street Journal
Bookmark: (Drug Education)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


British Drug-Outreach Group Prints Pamphlets for Addicts; Forget About 
'Just Say No'

MANCHESTER, England -- Sitting in a drug counseling center's waiting room, 
Elizabeth Forrest giggles as she scans a comic book explaining "how to roll 
a perfect joint" in nine easy steps.

"This is hilarious," the 25-year-old heroin addict says, pointing to a 
cartoon warning that smoking too much marijuana can be fattening. The 
sketch shows an overweight man eating from a dog-food bowl as his pet barks 
in disapproval.

The comic book, "Everything You Wanted to Know about Cannabis, An Insider's 
Guide," is one of dozens published by Lifeline, a nonprofit drug-counseling 
group in the United Kingdom, that give tips on how to smoke pot or drop 
acid and still look and feel good. "How to Survive Your Parents Discovering 
You're a Drug User" counsels teens not to stash pot in coat pockets since 
that's the first place parents will look. A Lifeline's guide to cocaine 
warns against snorting off the groove of an old vinyl LP record because "it 
is somewhat wasteful."

The comics have fans throughout Europe and a cult following in prisons, 
where they are traded like baseball cards. Now they are also at the center 
of a growing controversy, after revelations that Lifeline gets UKP4 million 
($6.3 million or ?6.2 million) a year in funding from the British government.

The books "try and be cool and radical but all they are doing is offering 
'how to' tips masquerading as health advice," says Peter Stoker, director 
of Britain's National Drug Prevention Alliance.

Though Lifeline has published the comics for 15 years, both the guides, and 
the fact that Lifeline is government subsidized, largely escaped public 
awareness. But ahead of the government's recent decision to liberalize some 
of its drug laws, officials conducted a comprehensive review of the 
drug-related nonprofits it funds. As a result, Lifeline and its comics 
suddenly became a focus of antidrug groups' anger.

Some of Lifeline's public funding comes from Britain's central government, 
but most is from local government contracts distributed by the city of 
Manchester's Drug and Alcohol Action Team, which supports drug outreach 
programs. Lifeline says it funds its publication division from sales of its 
comic books to other nonprofit groups, not with government money. The Home 
Office, which is Britain's national department of internal affairs, and the 
Manchester group both refused to comment on the uproar or on Lifeline's 

Some in the parliament want to pull Lifeline's funding. "Lifeline offers up 
a drug culture that is blame free, and taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for 
it," says Angela Watkinson, a member from the conservative party. Her views 
have been echoed by newspapers, political and social leaders and even 
British law-enforcement officials. Still, the complaints haven't prompted 
the government to change its policy.

Lifeline, which also operates a needle exchange program, says it simply is 
taking a pragmatic approach that keeps drug users safe, healthy and alive. 
It began publishing its comic books in 1987, after its research showed 
antidrug pamphlets didn't resonate with users. "To preach against drugs is 
an immoral form of propaganda since you are conning people into thinking 
you can really cure drug use when you can't," says Michael Linnell, 
Lifeline's director of communications and the co-designer of the comics.

Lifeline sends about one million of its books every year to high school 
counseling offices, drug-counseling centers and nightclubs. But the 
organization recommends in its publications catalog that people under 16 
use the materials only with adult supervision. Some of the publications 
even carry warnings about their content on their covers. Lifeline 
emphasizes that its harder-core pamphlets are aimed at users and aren't 
meant for young people.

Mr. Linnell says that while he and Lifeline's staff of 200 don't promote 
illegal drugs, they do accept drug use as a fact. People need to learn how 
to manage their addictions, he says, so they won't overdose or become ill 
and so they can, in the best cases, continue to function. Lifeline's 
philosophy is that instead of quitting altogether, addicts can reduce 
health risks by embracing less hazardous behavior such as using sterile 
needles for shooting heroin or smoking fewer joints. "It would be lovely if 
all teenagers were church-going virgins who never took drugs, but that is a 
fantasy that just doesn't exist," he says, citing a government study that 
found more than half of British teens under 16 have tried drugs at least once.

Mr. Stoker, of Britain's drug prevention alliance, considers Lifeline's 
approach dangerous. "Lifeline is arguing for less risky approaches to drug 
use but we say that you need to say no to drugs altogether ... harm 
reduction is a dishonest title for a process which seeks to loosen control 
and validate drug use."

Yet, Lifeline's publications do advocate moderation and show how ugly drug 
use can be. In "Brown for Beginners," a cartoon character shakes violently 
in bed as a demonic needle hovers overhead; the caption says, "With a 
heroin withdrawal the pain is there, twenty four hours a day, seven days a 
week." In "The Time Tripper," a hippie on acid, winds up in the "hall of 
heavy Karma, where the souls of all the animals he has eaten during his 
life hang out." And "Everything You Wanted to Know About Cannabis" warns 
that "excessive use of cannabis can make people lazy and unmotivated."

But for the most part, the comics offer practical advice -- how to take 
Ecstasy and avoid looking washed out ("eat regularly and try to balance 
your diet") and whether to eat one or two slices of "space" cake baked with 
cannabis ("try half a piece of cake and wait an hour, then decide whether 
or not you fancy the other half").

Ms. Forrest, who appears much older than her age, started on heroin when 
she was 20 and says she would probably be dead had she not learned how to 
find a vein from "Better Injecting." It also told her she had been using 
too much citric acid to dissolve her heroin, which can cause severe 
abscesses. "The pamphlets understand what it's like to be on drugs," she says.

In the Netherlands, Mainline Lady, a magazine aimed at female heroin users, 
also offers advice. One recent article suggested how to treat 
cocaine-weathered dry skin: Use lots of moisturizer. Another warned against 
carrying more cash than necessary when visiting a dealer, and the horoscope 
told Geminis that "you might put on weight if you're lucky." "People are 
going to do drugs anyway, so we might as well help them to be safer and 
more beautiful," says Jasperine Schupp, editor of the magazine. Mainline 
Lady, which also gets government funding, is distributed free to about 
5,000 users in Amsterdam.

New York's Positive Health Project, a nonprofit that helps heroin users and 
people with AIDS, is planning a U.S. version of Mainline Lady. Jason 
Farrell, the group's director, says he hopes to have enough money to start 
publishing in the coming year or so; he wants the magazine to stress health 
and safety with self-defense tips for prostitutes and suggestions on 
gaining weight to heroin addicts.

Rev. Paul Flower, a Methodist minister who sits on Lifeline's board, 
agrees. "Lifeline publications would never make it in the U.S. because the 
culture is so different," he says. "The Brits like dealing with truth 
rather than hypocrisy."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom