Drug Use Is NOT Inevitable
“If only I had known then what I know now,
I would never have taken that first hit.”
This is the common cry of drug addicted people all over the world. It matters little if the drug is heroin, crystal methamphetamine, hashish or crack cocaine. The whole process that eventually led to this person’s ruined life, blunted mental capacity and ravaged body could have been avoided if the original act had never occurred.
It seems obvious that no one would begin an activity that stands a good chance of ruining their life unless they didn’t know or at least didn’t believe that it could happen to them. In most schools in the United States there is some form of drug education. So why is it that in the U.S. there are still more than 7,000 people, mostly young ones, trying illegal drugs for the first time each and every day?
We’ve been told for years that most kids will try drugs no matter what their elders say. That comes from a group that forwards a strategy called “Harm Reduction.” Their stated goal is to reduce the harms of drug use while protecting the rights of people to use both licit and illicit drugs as they choose. This troop holds that drug use is inevitable and that young people should be taught to use drugs safely.
A defining characteristic of drug addiction is the lack of control over drug usage. I’ve been working in the drug rehabilitation and drug abuse prevention fields for decades and I have never met one drug addict who intended to become addicted.
This “responsible use of illegal drugs” approach doesn’t allow for the fact that the first thing to go in illegal drug use is the user’s judgement. This is especially troubling in young people who are in the process of developing social and decision making skills. The time for good judgement is BEFORE drug use starts.
In view of the fact that many drug users began their experimentation with drugs at age ten, eleven or twelve, we had better be in their classrooms, on their television channels and in their faces with the truth about drugs before that point.
Some of the same sources of harm reduction theories advocate the removal of legal penalties for possession of and eventually the total decriminalization and even legalization of all drugs, whether medicinal or recreational. (Snake oil, anyone?)
Their argument is that there is a ‘forbidden fruit effect’ which tends to lead potential users right to the drug; that all restrictions should be removed and drugs will just magically go out of style and become passé.
This is an obvious fallacy. The number one killer of all drugs is tobacco which takes hundreds of thousands of lives each year in the US and over six million per year worldwide. Yet it IS legal to possess or sell and use over the age of eighteen. The second biggest killer is alcohol, also legal.
Addiction to alcohol and nicotine takes people right to their graves; no need for any forbidden fruit effects.
Drugs are not damaging because they are illegal. They are illegal because they are damaging.
It’s irresponsible to give up on our youth and proclaim drug abuse an inevitability with which we must learn to live. We know that drug abstinence training is effective when it includes full and accurate information about drugs—not just a warning to avoid using them.
The opponents of drug abuse prevention efforts say that past drug education efforts have failed. The truth is that drug abuse prevention training DOES work, and users are in the minority. Surveys show that even though drugs are readily available to most students, the majority of them do not use. We must support abstinence from illegal drug use as a reasonable and achievable goal for public health policy and support a message of no misuse of legal drugs.
Studies have consistently shown a direct correlation between the belief that a drug is harmful and the prevalence of its use. The more young people believe that a particular substance can harm them, the fewer will be willing to use it.
Our drug prevention activities are helping. Now is not the time to back off. Now is the time to step up our efforts, to make kids even more aware, and to alert them to the elements in our society that are trying to promote the use of drugs.
If people of all ages are truly informed and know the damages that result from illegal drug use and misuse of legal drugs, we can reduce the numbers of drug abusers dramatically.
There is only one sure way to avoid the dangers of drug abuse, to never start. That is what we must teach our youth.
That’s real harm reduction.
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