Pubdate: Sun, 19 Sept 1999
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group plc. 1999
Author: Tony Thompson, Crime Correspondent


Teenagers who smoke the occasional joint, chase the dragon at weekends
or snort a line of cocaine and believe that this kind of recreational
use hurts no one are to be encouraged to boycott drugs on moral grounds.

The failure of campaigns such as the infamous 'Heroin Screws You Up'
and 'Just Say No' has prompted Keith Hellawell, the Government's
so-called Drugs Czar, to switch tactics. He plans to make use of the
increasing groundswell of social conscience among the young which has
seen them reject French wine in the wake of nuclear testing and refuse
to travel to countries such as Brazil because of their human rights
records. 'I meet a lot of young people who say to me: "We're not
hurting anybody." That simply isn't true,' says Hellawell. 'If you
look at the way women are treated in countries like Afghanistan, one
of the main sources of heroin, you see there is a knock-on effect. I
am not saying we are being effective with the approach, but it is all
part of our strategy.'

According to Amnesty International, the two countries most closely
associated with the drugs trade - Colombia for cocaine and Afghanistan
for heroin - rank high on their list of concerns. 'These two countries
have some of the worst human rights records anywhere in the world,'
said a spokesman. 'You are talking about a complete breakdown in
regard for human life.'

More than 1,000 Colombian civilians have been killed by the security
forces in the past year and six human rights activists have been murdered.

In Afghanistan, now under the rule of the Taliban extremists, women
are banned from employment and education and are unable to leave home
unless accompanied by a male relative. Scores have been abducted and
raped by men from the various political factions.

Hellawell may also choose to highlight environmental considerations,
detailing the destruction of South American rainforest for cocaine
cultivation and the pollution caused by the manufacturing process for
several drugs.

The change in strategy comes soon after the publication of a
three-year study which found startling levels of drug abuse: One in
four 13-year-olds were found to have taken illegal drugs. In the case
of 15-year-olds, more than half had tried some form of illegal
substance. The report's authors noted that drug-taking was no longer a
minority pastime but now involved millions of 'ordinary' young people
who are not from underprivileged backgrounds.

Studies based on figures from the 1998 British Crime Survey show that
increasing numbers of young people are trying cocaine, attracted by
falling prices and the drug's associations with the rich and famous.
In many areas cocaine is being marketed as a 'healthy' drug and, in
London in particular, is rapidly taking over from ecstasy as the drug
of choice.

There were also higher than expected rates of heroin use. This is of
particular concern because of predictions of a bumper poppy crop next
year, which could increase levels of production and see a rise in the
purity of heroin but a fall in the street price.

Many teenagers avoid heroin because they do not want to inject
themselves, but high-quality heroin can also be smoked.
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