the war on drugs is changing

My first article on the war on drugs was back in 2015, a time in which I was very positive about the changes we were beginning to make in managing drug abuse. For what was optimistic progress back then, things really haven’t got any better. People keep dying.

2018 brought 4359 deaths in the UK due to drug poisoning and misuse, a 16% rise from the previous year. This was also the highest ever annual rise and final total (since records began in 1993) and deaths involving cocaine doubled between 2015 and 2018. What the fuck is going on?

I can choose to hope, of course, that due to 2018 being 2 years ago already (where does the time go?) some of the new movements could have made a difference already. This would be a brilliant ideal but not one I really believe. Too many are losing their lives taking drugs, something must be done.

Deaths from Cocaine almost tripled in 4 years, nearly quadrupled from previously ‘legal’ highs and increased five-fold for MDMA.

Education, Education, Education

In many ways we need to start from scratch. The actions of politicians in the late 20th century has stamped drugs and their users as the devil and we need to wake up in order to keep the next generation safe.

Our national curriculum consists of things like 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 I highly doubt these facts have ever made a life or death difference. Drugs education however, why not?

There’d be an awful lot of changes if I had a go at overhauling the education system in this country. But this one in particular could be such an easy fix, find new ways to scare kids instead of the lethargic “DRUGS ARE BAD.”

A few years ago, I spoke to Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, the founder of the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs foundation. The charity is named after her son who died of a 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.

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

Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, chairperson of…

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, absolute tactics just didn’t work. She now visits schools, telling young people of her own awful experiences, and bringing those tragic stories we hear so often in the news, to life.

Daniel was only 16 when he died (Credit:


Alongside these informative services, there are the more controversial, but definitely happening, drug testing centres.

Criticised by many as a red stamp for “drugs are ok”, these centres are actually common practice around Europe – more accepting of the culture than ignoring it ever goes on. Brought in by 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.

Boardmasters festival harm reduction service (Credit: Cornwall Live)

The purity testing is the most surprising part of this debate because it is this that actually causes the most problems. 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 number of recent deaths occur due to the drug containing upwards of 90% MDMA; far too strong a dosage for the body to handle. Helping someone realise that their pill is double the necessity needed to get high could save countless lives.

These stations are starting to find a place at most festivals up and down the country. Secret Garden Party and Kendall Calling led the charge, with very successful results, and now even larger nightclubs are getting in on the act for big events. They are taking this problem seriously when others decide to look the other way, placing blame on the wrong people.

 “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.”

Fiona Measham, University of Durham professor and co-director of The Loop

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 some 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. If the government hadn’t decided to put the label on these substances 50 years ago, who knows what could be common place today?

And what about all the corruption that comes with the illegality of drugs. If MDMA was audited, or at least treated, do you really think kids like Daniel Spargo-Mabbs would be as naive when buying them from anyone? 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.

I want to make one thing clear and it is that I do not support the blanket legality of recreational drug use. I know there are positives seen in Portugal and other places but you can’t just have everything over the counter. What I search for is more an ideological change, one that will in turn lead to more progressive ways to control substances in future.

Ahhh the future, I wonder if it will be better or worse. I hope that as the last generation slowly start to leave this earth, some of their opinions begin to die too. Sorry to sound so morbid but on certain topics this is the only real direction of change.

You would find it hard to find someone in their early 20s who has not met someone who has had a close call with drugs. We need to be at the forefront of these safer practices, no matter what many say is right or wrong, to force our seniors into pushing legislation. 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

YZ 🙂

Feature Image Cartoon by Nath Paresh

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