Ignorance Kills: Why Screenwriters Should Get Their Drug Doses Right

With so much going on in the world, and so many sources of news and entertainment, it’s increasingly difficult to get any clear picture of our society as a whole.  So it’s a rare coincidence when one notices side by side events that seem to coherently point in the same direction.

Lazing away on a Sunday evening, I caught a catch-up episode of E4’s “Skins”.  Not something I do very often, mind.  There are many things you come to expect from a show if it’s genre – shocking and scandalous teenage behavior being a key component.  But the portrayal of drug use on the second episode of Season 3 I found particularly worrying

No, I’m not worried about kids thinking drugs are cool, or emulating their favorite characters, or even that they might start to think that there are ‘normal’ people who do drugs for fun without being affected in the rest of their lives.  What I’m talking about is showing kids emptying entire baggies of a dodgy white powder mix of amphetamines and opiates into their mouths, twice in the same episode.  And then not seeing either of them so much as be sick.

In a prohibitionist society, teenagers have limited access to open information about illicit substances.  You ‘learn’ how drugs are done mostly through television and movies.  I only understood how heroin was taken, for example, after watching Heath Ledger in “Candy”.  You don’t exactly get how-to instruction videos from your local dealer.

This is why, if nothing else, drug use shown on television cannot afford to be wildly imaginative.  I cannot think that there is a single illegal drug whose effects in that kind of quantity wouldn’t be highly dangerous and possibly fatal – never mind hugely noticeable.  Yet the kids are only mad at the first girl who empties the baggie because now there’s none left for them.  They laugh and call her stupid for not knowing she’s meant to snort it.  (Oh, did I mention this is the girls first time taking drugs, to top it all off?)

Then the more ‘hardcore’ Cook does the same thing later on – only to immediately then jump on stage and sing a song about the girl he wants to shag that evening.  I imagine the only sounds coming from anyone who took even half that much would be slightly less musical retching, echoing around the bathroom walls.

But back to where fantasy meets reality.  Scanning through the headlines this morning, I see “Girl died after taking ecstasy at ‘take a load of drugs’ festival”.  After reading the article, one learns that the ecstasy she took was fatal – because she took three times the amount needed to cause “toxic effects.”

Could it be more clear?  Deaths from a drug like ecstasy are limited to those who become exceedingly dehydrated or those with certain extreme and rare conditions or overdosed.  Total deaths blamed on ecstasy are limited to around 20 a year.

But here, a twenty year-old girl attending a music festival dies from an overdose.  Once again we’ll hear tut-tuts here and there about drug-taking youths.  We’ll make our drug laws stricter, our security tighter, our parental figures less likely to be the sort kids can sit down with and ask open questions about drug use.  Their only ideas about recreational drug-taking will come from what they see on TV.

I think we all know by now that no matter how hard we try to stop them, teenagers will still experiment with drugs – because thats what kids do.

And as we see time and time again, ignorance kills.

When will we learn that prohibition doesn’t work – and that the best and only way we really have to deal with these issues is to supply open and truthful (not vague, sensationalist and or fear-mongering) information so that people are able to make educated decisions?


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Posted: November 1st, 2009
Categories: Drugs
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