The truth about drugs

| 05/07/2010

On the International Day Against Drugs this year (26 June) Mark Scotland, the minister with responsibility for health said, “Teenagers and young adults are particularly vulnerable to using illicit drugs. Many times they are subjected to strong peer pressure to experiment with illicit drugs. Moreover, young people tend to be either misinformed or insufficiently aware of the health risks involved in using drugs.”

To some extent, he is correct. Yes, teenagers and young adults are sometimes steered in the wrong direction to use illicit drugs by their peers and responsible adults should take heed in getting them on the right track. However, it’s not because young people don’t know the health risks and consequences of drug abuse.

Young adults are very knowledgeable about the various risks and effects that come with using or distributing drugs, maybe more than some adults do, that is why they do them. It’s the whole idea of taking a risk that intrigues them.

Of course it is wrong to think that misuse of any kind of drug should be acceptable by any means, but it is also wrong to think that teenagers will not experiment.

Acceptance amongst peers plays a big part on today’s young people. It seems as though if you are not skipping class, doing drugs, having sex or in a gang, you’re an outcast. Nobody wants to be going through adolescence alone. That being said, teens will do almost anything to become popular knowing the risk but having an “I don’t care what it takes, as long as I still have friends and a worthwhile reputation I’ll do it” attitude.

Sure, acceptance and peer pressure are problems, but that stems from a group of people. What about those who lead the crowd? What or who influenced them?

Parents/guardians play a major role in how their children behave and conduct themselves around others. If you grow up and are subjected to seeing violence and drug abuse, who’s to blame them for following in the same direction? Yes, they are being taught to be different and “say no”, but let’s face it, that is easier said than done.

Although some of Cayman’s youth can deal with a dysfunctional household as a character building method by being determined to strive for a better lifestyle, most times that is not the case and teens become disheartened. They begin to think that nothing good can come from their life and the path they are on cannot change. Where is the family support?

Even if my opinion on this topic doesn’t count for anything, I know what it’s like as a young person growing up in these times and it’s not easy avoiding what’s in front of your face. I strongly believe that people should stop preaching and shoving information down teenagers throats and look around at what’s really happening.

Stop and think, “Maybe we shouldn’t focus on the statistical side of the situation at hand. Let’s talk with the young people about it and get their ideas and what they think we could do to help.”

The government should not try to advise the public straight away based on some statistics from a survey which half of the young people probably lied on anyway. Instead, they should listen to what the young people already know and their views and opinions on drug abuse. Then they respond in a way which won’t feed them the same “say no”, “drugs will kill you” and “be above the influence” speeches all the time.

Reaching out to the public by going to schools, homes and even offices will show that the government is interested in what goes on. Conducting surveys obviously isn’t helping to get involved or reaching out.

This generation will lead the next, and if this method of “awareness” isn’t working now, it won’t work in the future. It is time for a change.

Ashleigh Hydes is a 15-year-old student at John Gray High School who spent her work-link placement with CNS.

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  1. more veggies please says:

    Ashleigh, of course your opinion counts. Why would you think that it didn’t? You are in the thick of adolescent peer pressure, so your opinion reigns supreme over a 40 year old who can only speak about their experience in that area 25 years ago.

    I don’t have any personal experience with peer pressure elicited by gangs, but can tell you about my teenage experiences with drugs & why tactics employed at that time to discourage use had zero effect.

    I’m a 24 year old female that attended a private high school in Grand Cayman. By far, the most abused drug was alcohol; I think there was an article on CNS recently about the widespread abuse of alcohol on the island. The first time I drank, I was 15, which was about average at the time… is it the same now? You are right in saying that because there is no honest dialogue, young people are misguided in their views about drugs. Many of those that sorely abused alcohol in high school (and university) had a lot to do with the "you should never, ever drink or you’ll go to hell" mentality being shoved down our throats in high school.

    It’s the same for ganja. There were some people who came in & spoke about smoking & we were told that smoking 1 joint is like smoking 5 cigarettes –> not true. This was just a scare tactic, and had no effect on stopping people in the school from continuing or starting to use it. Depending on the soil the plant is grown in, sure, there can be substances like cadmium from the fertilizer that could cause toxicity, but you would have to be smoking a lot of joints a day – way more than a recreational user would ever do. My point: there has to be a line emphasized between trying something, recreational use, and abuse. 

    The honest dialogue should run along the lines of something like this:

    a) These are the physiological responses occurring in your body when you do (this) drug.

    b) These are the effects that occur when you abuse (this) drug.

    c) These health conditions can be exacerbated when a person uses (this) drug.

    In short, telling teenagers not to do something & attempting to scare them away from it, will never work. As you said in your article, it is the risk that draws them in. You cannot tell a developing mind not to do something "just because you say so." Many people try to employ the belief that you should "honour thy mother & father" as a means of ‘keeping their child in line,’ but this does not work. You have to treat them as intelligent people, not minions.

    If you have read this far, thank you. Ashleigh, stunning job; please keep the viewpoints coming.

  2. Anon says:

    We are so far off this sadly… When you can declare in your office/to a random collection of strangers that you ‘smoked a joint last night’ (in your own home, own time) as comfortably as you can say ‘you had a glass of wine with lunch’ (during a working day) then we will be able to look at the issue objectively and without prejudice. I’m not sure we’ll be there anytime soon.

    Yes, the former is illegal, anyone who rushes to tell me that misses the point of this thread.

  3. whodatis says:

    Good article Ashleigh. Some excellent feedback as well.

    In a nutshell, the most easily available and vilified "drug" in Cayman society (marijuana) is far … and I mean FAR … less dangerous and damaging than it is claimed to be – especially when compared to freely available drugs / substances (as previously addressed) such as alcohol.

    (The suspected reasons behind this range from its interference with the spiritual / religious status quo to political / insightful enlightenment to the mainstream resistance to its most frequently witnessed endorsers – Rastafarians and their ideology.)

    That being said however, it is NOT a substance that I would encourage any young person to involve themselves on any excessive level whatsoever.

    I say that because its primary effect on the body is of overwhelming relaxation. Translation: It slows you down … some variants will even knock you out for a good 45-60 mins.

    This "relaxation" tends to stifle and interrupt one’s motivation, drive and overall approach to serious life issues. This is not an idyllic situation for young people to find themselves. At your stage of life it is crucial for one to be alert and on his or her toes as much as possible. Weed will undoubtedly complicate that process.

    So, from a (slightly) older person to you – be smart with the choices you make. Try to lead a healthy life and live it to the fullest. Too much of anything tends to lead to problems down the road.

    All the best to you and good luck in your future endeavors.

  4. San Andreas says:

    There will always be a demand for drugs, because for the vast majority of users drugs work.   The best way to deal with the effect of drugs on the community and the minority who end up with problems is through legalisation and strict criminal penalties for crimes committed under the influence of drugs or repeat offences by problem drug users.

    The current bans on drugs only achieve one thing – massive profits for criminals and the foundation of the global criminal economy.

  5. Joe Average says:

    Ms. Hydes, I read your viewpoint with much interest as it was written by someone from the next generation. In it I saw a polite reference to what I believe many young people view as as a hypocritical stance with regard to the misuse of drugs. To put it more plainly, my genereation (a generation older than yours) went through precisely the same . Although I must say there were more surviviors than there are now nowadays and some of them I believe hold positions of power. You know who you are.

    The hypocrisy we saw with regard to ganja, the most popular illicit "drug" at the time, was also "in our faces". As we witnessed what appeared to be a double standard regarding one of the most socially dangerous drugs available – alcohol. It was ok for adults to consume alcohol, sometimes to excess with damaging consequences only because it was deemed legal. At the same time, we were informed and "educated" to the fact that use of a drug many had found to be quite benign could lead to serious consequences and legal problems. The Killer Weed.

    To support that theory, scientific studies were marched out and some quite comical films were made to warn us of the dangers. The absolute silliness and hypocrisy of this was not lost on us as we witnessed supposedly responsible adults act like idiots after having had too much to drink. And in fact, made warning of the dangers of harder and more realistically dangerous drugs that much harder to believe and even more difficult to enforce. By not being upfront and truthful, or at least condoning alcohol, which had been proven to be addictive to some and dangerous to others, the battle against drug abuse was lost before it began.

    This same mistake is still being made and as you point out what young people really need and want is an honest dialogue surrounding the misuse of drugs, not just the ones deemed socially unacceptable. Without that honest dialogue the dangers of drugs such as methamphetamine, a truly dangerous drug, responsible for at least as much agony as alcohol, will not be taken seriously. That is a tragedy. Nor will it be heeded by young people, as they choose to experiment for themselves rather than follow warnings given by a society knee-deep in it’s own drug problem.

    This is the a sad state of affairs at present and the only thing useful in counteracting it is not a condescending attitude, not another "study", and not another "educational program". But a completely open and honest discussion about why our society and others use drugs. Let’s be inclusive, that includes legal pharmaceuticals used to cure "arthritic pain", "depression", "anxiety", "sleeplessness", and any number of ailments common to "everyday life".

    There is in fact a cure for almost anything associated with an unpleasant feeling. These are "pushed" in magazines and on television: "If you have any of these symptoms, consult your physician to see if "X" may be useful." followed by a rapid-fire disclaimer an auctioneer would be proud of stating all the nasty side effects such as vomitting, blurred vision, loss of motor control, bleeding, the occasional cancerous growth, and death. But these are ok and acceptable because 9 out of 10 doctors prescribe this particular drug for your symptoms.

    And let’s not forget the alcohol ads showing young people having too good a time and possibly "scoring" after opening a bubbly bottle of their favorite intoxicant. Be it beer, vodka, gran marnier, tequila, or any kind of liquid fun. They are all happy and not one of them isshown wrapped around a tree with their head through a windshield because in tiny print at the bottom it says: "Drink responsibly."

    We are not helping young people with a double standard saying that other drugs will kill them, and as you so eloquently pointed out it is young people our generation should be inviting into the conservation if we mean to control drugs and their use including the socially acceptable ones. And not the other way around because they are paying the cost for our hypocrisy. Thanks for your view point and I agree with it.


  6. Anonymous says:

    Brilliant piece of writing Ashleigh. Well done. With writing skills like you have demonstrated in this Viewpoint you should do well in any discipline you choose.

  7. An adult who cares about young people says:

    Ashleigh, I do so hope that you choose Journalism as a career since you obviously have the talent and the intelligence to do so. With this viewpoint you make an interesting point that all too often we adults make assumptions about young people and then try to lecture them based on our wrong-headed ideas. We do need to listen more (are you listening, Mr Scotland?) and we need you and young people like you to remind us of that over and over.

    Keep on writing, Ashleigh. You can make a difference if you keep believing you can, and the Cayman Islands surely needs some new ideas.