|Prevention of Drug Abuse through Education and Information: An Interdiscplinary Responsibility Within the Context of Human Development (EC - UNESCO, 1994, 26 p.)|
Any preventive programme should fix its objectives before defining the methods to be used to attain them. Notwithstanding, preventive education strategies come up against the same difficulties as all other educational processes in general, i.e. that norms, values and models vary from culture to culture, and that whilst action must be taken globally, individuality must be respected. This being said, there is obviously no unique or ideal response. Finally, and most important, preventive education aims at preventing any breakdowns in the fabric of society.
The following questions are fundamental in determining the objectives of preventive education against drug abuse.
a. Is the aim to eradicate the use of drugs, or to reduce the harmful effects of drug abuse?
b. Should the programme focus on illicit drugs only, or integrate all drugs - both licit and illicit - in every preventive strategy, or even question the boundaries between these two categories?
c. Are objectives to be centered around demand reduction, or is it considered that supply and demand are indissociable?
The following answers can be used as the base upon which to establish preventive education programmes:
a. Eradicating use, or reducing the harmful effects of drugs
The increasing use of drugs during this century poses the inevitable question of relationships between the individual and his or her place in society. The passage from collective ritual or medical use of drugs in modern societies occurs because of breakdowns in the collective control of such use and it can, thus, be considered that the instability and fragility of the social fabric is at the origin of these breakdowns. Society no longer offers its members a ready-made place; on the contrary, it is incumbent upon each individual to find his or her own slot and build up his or her own social identity, as Claude LEFORT (7) reminds us. The steadily growing use of drugs would more and more seem to correspond to reactions to difficult situations, rather than a desire for adventure and exploration of the mind, as was sometimes the case (mainly in developed countries) in the sixties.
(7) In: «Drogues: Politique et Soci» under the direction of Alain Ehremberg and Patrick Mignon. Le Monde Editions and Editions Descartes, Paris, 1992
Just as BAUDRILLARD (8) affirms: «This is the crux of the ambiguity and the paradox of drugs; in some countries drug-taking is a symptom of the collective loss of immune defences or of the individual loss of symbolic defences (...) And now we see the use of drugs from another, exactly opposite, angle: while it is part of the immune deficiency syndrome, it itself a defence. Better defences may exist, but it is possible to speculate (for we must respond to such an insoluble state of affairs with paradoxical hypotheses) that the use and abuse of drugs may be a vital and symbolic reaction, however despairing and suicidal it may seem, against something still worse. Without by any means yielding to the temptations of the over-optimistic ideology in the West during the 1960s and 1970s concerning the «expansion of conscious -ness» there are grounds for thinking, much more prosaically, that this is not only an impulse to flee from the objective process of brutalization that life in some societies may be, but a collective movement of avoidance, a shared reflex of flight from the universal standardization, rationalization and regimentation which undoubtedly constitute, in the long term, a much more serious danger to society and to the human race (...)
That said, drug-taking in the industrialized countries is no longer in its intensive phase, the phase sustained by euphoric or glorifying rhetoric, whether subversive or suicidal. It is in its extensive phase: while it is spreading and gaining ground, it is in the process of becoming less virulent for society. It is no longer a more or less subversive type of anomie, but an anomaly which is becoming institutionalized (..) This 'perverse» logic must be taken into account and a distinction must be made between drug-taking connected with economic and social underdevelopment (as it still might be in developing countries or, in the case of alcohol, in underprivileged classes) and drug taking linked to the saturation of the consumer society. The latter type began to emerge in the 1960s in the industrialized countries, as both the apogee of consumption and a parody of it, as an anomaly which challenged a world that had to be escaped from because it was too full, not because it lacked something. Perhaps there is a lesson here for developing societies, which are still ambivalent in terms of their organization»
It is consequently in the multiple political, economic, social and cultural crises of modern societies, which are all obstacles to development, that working hypotheses to explain the increase in the abusive use of drugs are to be found. And, this is why there is no single unique cause of abuse, but rather a multiplicity of factors of diverse biological, psychological and social origins.
Many studies show that when drug use is socially integrated, then it can happen that only in extreme cases is it considered a problem. This would imply, therefore, that it is the abuse of drugs, as a real syndrome of social deficiency, which should be the subject of preventive education and, more specifically, reducing the damaging effects of this use (minimize the damage which results).
b. Should the programme focus only on illicit drugs, or integrate all drugs - both licit and illicit - in every preventive strategy, or even question the boundaries between these two categories?
All drugs are the product of a society, and the ways in which they are used designates their social function. The notion of licit and illicit varies from culture to culture; and, from epoch to epoch, these classifications intersect and their perimeters are redefined.
Rapid socio-economic change produces new drugs, forcing continual changes in the ephemeral boundaries between licit and illicit substances.
It is thus evident that the social and cultural context defines how use is regulated and determines the inherent degree of risk (and not only at an individual level), whether the drugs are legal or not. This is why reference is made both to functional dependence of a society on cultural modes and social use, and to individual dependence upon a way of life.
c. Are objectives to be centered around demand reduction, or are supply and demand to be considered as indissociable?
Generally, illicit drugs follow the law of the market in the particular circumstances of an illicit commercial context: the price of a good is in proportion with the risks taken by the dealer. Moreover, the monopole held in effect by some dealers on the market maintains prices at a high level. It is equally true that prohibition sometimes increases the prestigious value of an item for certain groups, just as it is also true that prohibition is unlikely to decrease overall social demand. This highlights the fact that repression might not diminish supply, but rather the opposite, because it increases benefits for the dealer and can enhance the product's symbolic value for the consumer.
Therefore preventive education programmes must take into account the link between supply and demand; limiting preventive education to demand reduction is to ignore the elementary principles governing any market economy, although certain studies (like those of Dr. Johnston) show that the use of cannabis is now lower amongst high-school students, whereas its production and circulation is higher, which would tend to indicate that this link is not automatic.
Whilst the economic and political context is thus a necessary variable when considering what preventive education strategy to choose, it is not, however, a sufficient condition in itself, because determinations in the social arena are not linear.