CEO Blog, Street Drugs; Is the Dragon Still Smoking?
“Is Cocaine worse than Alcohol?” was a question I asked at South Wales Police Headquarters after an expert from Public Health stated she was horrified after going to a Nightclub with her son and saw so many young people taking cocaine. It was noticeable that in the room of 20 people, every person there knew someone who struggled with alcohol issues, and conversely no one was aware of anyone with a cocaine addiction.
We know that knife crime is fuelled by issues surrounding cocaine, but is it also linked to alcohol use? The Government says that the middle class use of cocaine is fuelling problems such as County Lines. I think there is a better argument to be said that the illogical classification of drugs is leading to County Lines more than the use of powdered cocaine. I believe the thinking around County Lines is wrong, it’s not so much about the money to be made out of selling drugs, but more to do with a young person’s self-image. It is well-known that if someone is struggling at home or school to get any personal affirmation, they often turn to behaviours that are negative in order to create an alternative image of themselves. It is not surprising then, that the rise of gangs and County Lines comes after years of cuts to youth services. A useful summary of young people and gangs can be found on the NSPCC site https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/staying-safe-away-from-home/gangs-young-people/
For us, it may be easy to say that young people are making the wrong decisions, but it is important to keep in mind that for many children, joining a gang can provide a boost to their self-esteem that cannot be gained by following societal norms. In the same way, people’s choice of substance is often made intelligently, albeit against the norms of society.
In 2010, Professor David Nutt and colleagues scored the harms associated with drugs, Alcohol came up as one of the worst with a score of 72 whilst powdered cocaine was relatively the same as tobacco at 27. The link to the survey is https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20101101/alcohol-more-harmful-than-crack-or-heroin#1
Interestingly, in terms of harm, crack was seen as significantly more damaging than cocaine. So we are in a much better place from a Public Health perspective if we move people from Crack use to cocaine which given the price, is very possible.
If people are turning from alcohol to other drugs, is this necessarily a bad decision? Alcohol use has many negative aspects such as hangovers, high calorie content and the damage it causes is greater than many illegal drugs. https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/young-people-turning-their-backs-alcohol/. The need to properly evaluate drug use and understand the reasons for people’s choices is now more important than ever. We also need to be aware that the information we receive about alcohol is often filtered through the government and the distilleries that benefit from sales of alcohol.
The dangers of different Drugs, whether legal or illegal is an important issue for all of us to better understand. Hopefully by giving people the right information and warning them about real dangers more lives can be saved and better health outcomes can be achieved. On the 25th June, Kaleidoscope with its partners Barod, South Wales University and the British Association Psychopharmacology will be holding a conference on Street Drugs in Wales.