Global drug survey highlights dangers of prohibition.

The results of “the largest assessment of current drug use ever conducted…” by The Guardian/Mixmag global drugs survey of 15,500 people have recently been made available. The findings of the survey, which we encourage you to read if you have the time, make interesting reading.However, with the mean age of UK respondents being 28 could the findings of this survey reveal changing attitudes towards drugs and how drugs are used?

There were some findings which should definitely send out alarm bells to anybody, no matter their views on current drug policy. Aside from the rise in oxycodone deaths, 15% of respondents said they had taken an unknown white powder over the past 12 months. A third of this group then admitted the powder was supplied by someone they didn’t trust. Younger drug users were the most risk seeking. A fifth of 18-25 respondents said they had taken a mystery powder.

Re:Vision believes these findings highlight several worrying problems about prohibition. Young drug users are often cautious when it comes to speaking about drug use and, more importantly, sensible drug use. With prohibition comes the stigma attached to the label of ‘drug user’ and for many, this encourages covert drug use, with little chance of probing for parental or medical advice. Though it may seem like common sense to you and I to avoid an unknown powder, many young people, who may just be realising that drug use as a whole isn’t the evil it was painted to be, may not know where to draw the line.

Would you take a powder if you weren't sure what it was?

A controlled and regulated market of drugs will minimise not only the problem of the ease of access to advice on drugs, but also the problems of the unknown powder and the untrusted individual. A controlled and regulated marked will ensure that all substances are obtainable by legitimate means at a trusted place of purchase, where any ‘powder’ will be identifiable by the label on the packet and so will its purity. By limiting the possibility of an unknown substance being the only drug at hand, and also heightening the availability and security for those seeking advice, health problems related to drugs would inevitably drop.

Back to the survey, the most popular drug used by UK respondents over the last 12 months was, unsurprisingly, alcohol (95.2%). This was followed by cannabis (68.2%) and tobacco (64.5%). Additionally a third of UK respondents who revealed their usage of prohibited drugs also took sleeping pills and 22.4% had taken the stronger option of benzodiazepines such as temazepan in the last year. Concerns were raised because for example benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers are highly addictive if taken regularly for any length of time. Respondents revealed that zopiclone wasn’t having the effect to help with sleep and so upped the dosage.  

This echoes concerns raised by the Family Doctor Association in a 2011 survey where eight out of ten GPs were aware of prescribing legal drugs to people they thought were addicted to them. Nonetheless GPs expressed concerns that they are required to believe the patient is being honest and is not an addict. More research and support is needed to assist GPs who find themselves in this situation and help contain addiction problems, problems which prohibition only exacerbates.

The survey reveals much about drug consumption and potential concerns, but more information is needed about the wider public’s attitudes towards drug usage and current drug policy. Since The Guardian was responsible for “the largest assessment of drug use ever conducted” it seemed good practice to examine the public’s comments posted on the Guardian website.  It just takes a look at the comments on Barabara Ellen’s article It’s older people’s attitude to drugs that worries me to see the breadth of opinion still out there.

Despite different attitudes to drug use, outlook on life and so on, the comments, for the majority at least, champion freewill and the ability to make informed choices. Some people will make better decisions than others and this is unlikely to completely change regardless of whether substances are legalised or not. What can change however, is the environment in which these decisions are made. Re:Vision believes that a controlled and regulated market would give young drug users the advice and support they needed to make sensible decisions, whilst at the same time minimising risks. If the survey shows us anything, it’s that nothing can work less than current policy.