Educating On Drug Use vs. Criminalisation

Drugs are not going away. It doesn’t matter how many ‘criminals’ we catch due to having drugs on them, selling drugs or using drugs in a crowd of people. The problem of substance misuse remains. No amount of punishment seems to stop people from using and distributing drugs. It costs the equivalent of £41,200 to hold someone in prison for one year (using the example of Manchester Prison). This is without the court fees before the person is even sentenced. So why do we continue to use this system of punishment? 

It costs the equivalent of £41,200 to hold someone in prison for one year

Many people who use drugs are self medicating for an existing mental health problem. The existence of a struggle with drugs and a mental health problem is called ‘comorbidity’. This is growing, it is not shrinking. If we care about the wellbeing of society, why are we not doing more to help people? Punishing people like they’re children, for something that is sometimes out of their hands, doesn’t seem right to me.

If people are selling drugs, this is usually because it is a good form of income. In a world which revolves around the exchange of money to be able to live, people will do anything in their will to find this money. In this way, isn’t this related to the unsustainable system we are living in? Capitalism is a system whereby money is concentrated in the hands of a few. It is a system based on exploitation and inequality. It works for the few, but not for the many.

Capitalism… is a system based on exploitation and inequality.

So in a world where people are struggling to make ends meet, can we really blame them for taking this opportunity to sell something, into their own hands? Interviews have been had with people before who sell drugs, who stress that it gives them an independent lifestyle. They do not have a manager on their back in the same ways as you would working in Primark. Although still working for money, there is flexibility and control over it. You can chose how much you want to sell, you can revolve it around your own life and not have the man breathing down your neck about more sales. If the man above wants more sales, he will use other people.

This autonomy is a natural human desire. It is the desire to be free and have control over the way we live our lives. Living in a generation that is overworked and underpaid, you can understand why selling drugs is appealing. It also funds a persons habit as they have the stock waiting for them. For some, this life works.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning this lifestyle. But instead, I am not judging it. I think having compassion and understanding to every persons lifestyle is very important. People have the right to self determination– the right to make any choice they believe is right. This is a very liberal idea. Liberalism is based on the notion that people should have ownership over their own lives, bodies and decisions. The only point that interferes with this is when people are putting themselves or others at risk.

People have the right to self determination– the right to make any choice they believe is right.

But who are we to determine who is causing risk? In a society based around risk, people can become very controlled. Take mental health– The Mental Health Act 1983 allows the sectioning of a person against their will if they are at risk to themselves or others. This is completely understandable if risk is the highest value/moral compass for a given issue. But what if instead of centring our policy on risk, we focus it on community projects to raise the wellbeing of larger groups?

But what if instead of centring our policy on risk, we focus on community projects to raise the wellbeing of larger groups?

In England, we live in a very individualistic society. Everyone is out for themselves. This is visible when you set a society around risk because the focus is put on the individual. When you look at different statistics though, there is a huge correlation between economic deprivation and social issues. The bigger the gap between the richest and poorest in society, the more social issues that ensue. What this means is mental health struggles, substance misuse and crime are become collective issues. They are issues that stem from a deeply unequal society.

The bigger the gap between the richest and poorest in society, the more social issues that ensue. 

By focusing on individuals in the way we do to demonise, separate, label and create stigma we forget the conditions that create the problems in society. The conditions are the lack of community, lack of money put into services, the silence around issues and the general separation of people. The only way we can make a better world is by realising we are just the same as any other person. Born into another context, we too could have turned to drugs as a coping mechanism. This is the essence of compassion- realising we are equals with our own history, so that we reserve judgement. 

By focusing on individuals in the way we do to demonise, separate, label and create stigma we forget the conditions that create the problems in society.

So lets educate people on drug use, lets start talking about it instead of sweeping the issue under the carpet. So many people I have loved/love have lost their way through what seems like their drug use. But underneath the drug taking, they could be deeply processing trauma and mental health struggles. So instead of making them feel worse than they already may, lets listen and hear what they have to say.

Everyone has a story.

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