2015 had the highest mortality rate from drug poisonings since records began.
In particular, there were 57 deaths from ecstasy; the highest rate since records began.
Deaths from Cocaine almost tripled in 4 years, nearly quadrupled from previously ‘legal’ highs and increased five-fold for MDMA.
All the highest since records began.
2015’s statistics on drug abuse told us one thing that we can’t ignore any longer. People are losing their lives.
How we should be fighting back against this problem is a massive conversation in the public sphere once again. The closure of clubs such as Fabric brought with it a dangerous, reactive tone of “they can’t ruin our nights out”; forgetting that people are dying whilst everyone else has fun. Now that the immediate anguish has calmed down, there are a lot of people questioning where we go from here to keep both sides happy.
The term “War on Drugs” hails from the glory days of Richard Nixon. The US’ obsession with shutting down the trade of Narcos, such as Pablo Escobar, brought with it an all consuming mentality that every illegal substance is the devil. Now I’m not saying that they should have opened to floodgates for pills and powders to take over, but by putting such a forceful prohibition into place, they did destroy most chances for any real drug education to take place. And like with a lot of things, what the US did, we followed.
In our national curriculum, we still learn about congruent triangles, photosynthesis and how many wives Henry VIII had. In no way am I saying that this should stop, but for 99% of people who do learn these ‘crucial’ facts, I highly doubt it’s ever made a life or death difference. Drugs education however, could be that important.
My plans to overhaul the educational system in one article is for another day, but this is something that has to be considered. I recently spoke to Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, the founder of the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs foundation. She set up the charity when her own son died of an MDMA overdose at an illegal rave back in 2014. It was the first time he had tried the drug and he didn’t have a clue what it would do to his body. He was just following his friends and trying to have a good time, tragically paying the ultimate price.
Fiona Spargo-Mabbs: “I think before any changes are made we need to take a proper look at what we are teaching children in schools and accept that they need to know more. Whether you think you live in a nice area or not one way or another they will come across this stuff and they need to be prepared”
Quite surprisingly, Fiona was not calling for harsher punishments on all drug users and suppliers. She understood the curiosity that young people felt, and had realised that the current tactics to get rid of them completely just wasn’t working. She now works in schools, telling young people of her own awful experiences, and bringing those tragic stories we hear so often in the news, to life.
Their “Making Safer Choices” programme replaces the information that they believe should be taught throughout PSHE lessons and gives students a rounded knowledge of what experiences will greet them as they move forward. This foundation is just one of a number of education-based movements aiming to inform rather than punish those normal kids who are tempted by drugs.
Alongside these informative services, there are the more controversial, but definitely happening, drug testing centres. It has recently been announced that Preston, Lancashire, will be the first area to bring in purity centres in the new year, for clubbers to decide if they want to use their Class A’s.
Criticised by many as a red stamp saying “drugs are good”, these centres are actually common practice around Europe. Brought in by the charity, The Loop, their purpose is to prevent the maximum amount of harm and essentially save lives. Whether it reduces the risk to first-triers, says if your drugs are too strong or alerts a user of a dodgy batch; they’re doing a good job.
Fiona Measham, University of Durham professor and co-director of The Loop: “For the first time we’ve been able to offer the testing service to individual users as part of a tailored advice and information package provided by a team of experienced drugs workers. This can help people make informed choices, raising awareness of particularly dangerous substances in circulation and reducing the chance of drug-related problems occurring.”
The testing of purity is actually a very interesting part of this big debate, because what is causing the majority of these new deaths may surprise you. Many expect it’s what the drug is cut with that is poisoning the bodies of takers, but in many cases it could all be down to dosage. An increasing amount of deaths recently are occurring due to the drug containing upwards of 90% MDMA; a far too strong dosgage for the body to handle. Making someone realise that their pill of 200mg is double the necessity needed to get high could save countless lives.
Similar stations have already been used in the UK, at music festivals such as Secret Garden Party and Kendall Calling. At SGP, one in five, out of the 300 people that used the service, reportedly rejected their drugs afterwards. Who knows what could have happened to those festival-goers if they would have carried on popping those pills.
The bigger picture
And it is with this realisation that we are finally getting somewhere. Yes drugs are dangerous, they can cripple people with addiction and stop their heart in a second, but they also happen to give people a fucking good time. And unfortunately, since the dawn of time, if good things have bad side effects, the good side is still tempting. So why are we being naive and expecting to wipe out drugs completely, and why aren’t we learning ways to control it in a safe way?
As well as all this, there is the cynic inside me that says the only reason they aren’t all legal is because our governments missed the boat when taxing them. Alcohol is controlled, moderated and health checked by ministers every year to try and ensure we don’t become addicted to what is one of the world’s most harmful substances. If the government hadn’t decided it was going to tell us all cocaine was evil back in the day, who knows if that could have been the case with some of today’s class A substances.
And what about all the corruption that comes with the illegality of drugs, surely that needs to be taken into consideration. If MDMA was moderated, or at least treated as something real that we need to know about, do you really think kids like Daniel Spargo-Mabbs will be buying from someone they don’t really know? People trafficking, organised crime, extortion, kidnap, murder, addiction. Whilst drugs are illegal, criminals make billions, if it is controlled by the state, we could change a lot of people’s lives.
There are countless reasons to legalise drugs but, at the same time, there are just as many why we can’t. This does not mean the discussion should be ignored altogether and it is important that progressive ways of fighting this problem are considered and explored.
As all the people who spouted that drug abuse was “public enemy number one” slowly start to leave this earth, their opinions die too. Sorry to sound so morbid but sometimes this is the only real direction of change. As more people are taught the ways of safe drug taking, it will spread further at a faster rate and let’s hope it saves more lives in the process. This is not something that we can just change overnight but the sooner we start accepting that getting high isn’t going to go away, the sooner everyone will feel that little bit safer.
“I loved when Bush came out and said, ‘We are losing the war against drugs. You know what that implies? There’s a war being fought, and the people on drugs are winning it.”― Bill Hicks