Test or Not

News has come through of yet another drug related death at a music festival. What a dichotomy, a festival of youthful enthusiasm and enjoyment of music marred by a death from a drug presumably taken to heighten the enjoyment and experience of the occasion. What a waste.

Like the parents of all those school children slain in random shootings at schools in the USA, another set of parents condemned to a lifetime of memories almost too painful to bear I suspect. Not many days ahead for them without thinking at some point of what might have been or of the joy they had received from this life now cruelly taken away from them.

The news was accompanied by what could only be called a knee jerk reaction in that the state government is bringing in more severe penalties for drug offences but was refusing to even consider pill testing clinics in their much vaunted review of these deaths.  This strikes me as being akin to the death penalty school of thinking, if we make the penalty draconian enough “that should learn you”. As Ian Gordicans tweeted “there’s some sort of weird logic among conservatives that people who take drugs should be severely punished even if it means death and not provided with any help … unless it’s their own children of course”. But it is not only the victim that is punished of course, it is the family that survives on, haunted for life by this loss.

The pill testing program caused some deep discussion in my own household and prompted me to try and clarify my own thinking by writing about it. Firstly if you don’t know what a pill testing program really is have a look at this article by Olivia Willis that I found on the ABC site.

“Pill testing provided an opportunity for healthcare workers to engage in a dialogue about health and harm with a group of young people who don’t usually access drug and alcohol services.”  

These programs seem to my mind to offer some positive initiatives by working with the potential drug user. Nothing that has been tried over the years has shown any indication that kids won’t search out drugs or that some vicious people will hurry in to meet the demand. Vicious? I am searching for some other word to describe humans who will attempt to make money from another human’s weakness. Even worse to encourage the use of such harmful substances on a living human being, purely for their own evil benefit. If you want to be tough on anyone concentrate on the suppliers for punishment, not the users. 

The conservatives of course take the high ground and try to ignore the reality by pontificating about how illegal it is to take drugs and how strong they are in fighting the war on drugs. The higher the ground the further you are away from the problem of course. Always harder to fight the war from a distance as well. No mention of course of the dangers of legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco that bring in a river of tax revenue.

The continued prolific use of drugs at music festivals in particular calls for some more creative thinking on how we might help young people make better choices about the use of drugs. And seek to find an answer as to why anyone would over-rule all rational thought and the examples readily provided of the dangers of drug use by the deaths of other users. I can relate to this in only a small way from my own adoption of smoking which I wrote about in “Back To Natural” but I am not sure I have a clear idea of what it takes to ignore all the danger signals available about drug taking. There was very little immediate risk in smoking my first cigarette, but taking one contaminated pill could be the last conscious act a young person might ever take.

Is it the perceived protective shield of youthful ignorance that leads them to think they are bullet-proof and that nothing bad could happen to them by taking just one little pill? These are not evil monsters that we should not care about, that deserve to die if they won’t take notice of what us older, supposedly wiser heads tell them. These are potentially our own flesh and blood taking peer pressure risks, one of the more dangerous rites of passage many youths apparently need to navigate. What we need to do is help them survive these hazardous years of youth until a little wisdom that may come with maturity takes hold. 

Given this deadly cycle of drug death followed by harsher penalties followed by even more deaths, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to at least try and minimise the damage by free testing of drugs with laser-like counselling to the users most at risk, the ones who have already taken the first step by obtaining a drug. Asking for it to be tested might just be the life-saving act that we would all hope for.

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