Pubdate: Wed, 07 Aug 2002
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Dan Bilefsky, The Wall Street Journal


U.K. Group Offers Tips On Managing Addiction

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."

Government Subsidy

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 =A34 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 funding.

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 .

Managing Addictions

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

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."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek