Pubdate: Wed, 13 Feb 2002
Source: New Scientist (UK)
Copyright: New Scientist, RBI Limited 2002
Author: Philip Bowles


The American media's attitude to drugs is alarming and unhelpful (2 
February, p 44). But the British media seems no less deaf where criticisms 
of its fashionable but rather defeatist attitude are concerned.

Maia Szalavitz cites American and British studies as evidence that abuse 
prevention is impossible, yet such a result is no surprise in nations with 
some of the worst drug problems in the Western world. Harm reduction 
methods like the Swiss experience with heroin clinics and the proposals in 
Szalavitz's article do seem to combat some social problems resulting from 
drug abuse. But there is a seeming reluctance on both sides of the debate 
to look at ways of combating the causes of abuse itself.

Telling people not to take drugs isn't going to work if the problems of 
stress, depression, poverty, poor education, lack of alternative 
recreational activities and all the other factors that lead to drug abuse 
aren't addressed. Throughout the world, rates of drug abuse are increasing 
fastest in areas where such problems are severe.

Heroin clinics, a stopgap measure to reduce the effects addicts have on the 
rest of society, do nothing to alleviate the problems of the typically 
deprived abusers themselves or to prevent more lives being wasted on the 
drug. In this climate is it any wonder that the problem is getting worse?

It's time both sides saw drugs as what they are, a symptom as much as a 
cause of social problems. Trying to treat drug abuse in isolation from its 
social context is akin to trying to cure pneumonic plague with cough 
medicine, and it's past time to take a broader perspective.

PHILIP BOWLES High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
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