Recreational drug users: a silent majority – by Cara

Recreational drug users: a silent majority – by Cara

Posted On: May 10, 2011
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To many people, there will be nothing remarkable about what ‘Sasha’ says in this week’s Know Drugs interview.   She goes to work, she is financially stable, she has a healthy social life – and now and again she uses ecstasy or has a line of coke.  She prefers smoking cannabis to drinking alcohol.

To many others, Sasha’s views and experiences will be utterly shocking. To confess to using controlled drugs without claiming they ruined her life, or she became addicted or that she deeply regrets the experience is entirely irresponsible.

Testimonies like Sasha’s are barely witnessed in mainstream media because there is nothing ‘sensational’ or ‘car crash’ about them.  But Know Drugs’ believes that what she has to say is important and needs to become part of the mainstream discussion about drug use.  90% of drug use is non-problematic. There are many doctors, politicians, lawyers, bankers, journalists, social workers, teachers and any number of other  ‘professionals’ who use controlled drugs on an occasional or regular basis.   In terms of the way society and drug policy is set up these people do not exist.   Their invisibility means we are missing out on a great deal of important conversations that we could be having about why different people are drawn to different drugs and what those drugs do for them that they can’t access in other ways.

In last week’s Know Drugs interview, Dr May referred to the  ‘Myth of the Addict’.  It describes the way government and media hide behind a mythical notion of drug user solely as addict.   The notion that there are a minority of people who take drugs, who exist separately from everyone else and are responsible for all the ills of society makes it easy to maintain a drug policy that addresses only that minority .  It makes it easy to publish headline grabbing stories vilifying anyone who is exposed as a controlled drug user or espouses the view that maybe it’s not the end of the world if some people take drugs like ecstasy or cocaine in small quantities on an occasional basis.

The argument goes that presenting a casual approach to drug use such as Sasha’s is irresponsible and will increase the likelihood that young and vulnerable people will try drugs.   This is something to be taken seriously and indeed, the fear of ‘sending out the wrong message’ has dictated media coverage of drug use for years.  But can we honestly say that showing only the dark side of drug use has worked in terms of reducing usage or addiction?

If we want a drug policy that also addresses the other 90% of controlled drug users, we need to start hearing from them.  Perhaps, then can we hope that our elected politicians may start paying attention.  Interviews like Sasha’s act as voices for many others who dare not speak out, even anonymously.   In the coming weeks and months Know Drugs will release more interviews from recreational drug users with a variety of perspectives and experiences. It is our hope that we can learn from each other in ways that none of us anticipated at the outset.

The time of the Myth of the Addict is over.  The stereotype of drug users must be shattered.   We need to move forward with this debate.

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As a final thought, below is a statement Tony Blair made in the Alcohol Harm reduction strategy of 2004 – with a  twist that Transform put on it in their ‘Tools for the Debate’ document.

Speech by Tony Blair, taken from Transform's Blueprint for Regulation