‘Moralising about drug use doesn’t help, but neither does trivialising the problems’

Pill DisplayIt is not a good idea to be too cavalier – or moralistic – about drug use, write

The world seems to be divided into two camps where drugs are concerned: the frivolous (what harm can it do) and the moralistic (using drugs is very, very bad). Recently, Loes Reijmer used an article in the Volkskrant to turn on the latter. Her arguments made sense but were a little bit one-sided. Her stance is that a drugs policy based on fact, not moral prejudice, will lead to regulation of xtc and a reduction in the problems caused by this drug. Can it be that simple?

Reijmer supports her argument for legalising xtc with a study by the public health institute RIVM in which a list of drugs is drawn up according to harmfulness. Xtc is relatively low on the list. That doesn’t mean it is a harmless substance. The risk of death from xtc is high enough not to allow the drug to be used as medication very easily.

Logic

From this perspective legalisation would not be very logical. What is more, the RIVM study is based on research done into pills with a far lower dose of the mdma active ingredient than we are seeing now. The increased dosage has led to a significant increase in the number of xtc-induced health problems. The question is where on the list xtc would be in 2015. The frivolous will say alcohol still accounts for more health problems. But is that an argument to legalise xtc as well?

The threshold for using a substance is lower when that substance is legally available. It is likely that legalisation will lead to increased use and more potential incidents: legal xtc is not safe xtc either. It is not only the ‘polluted’ pills or pills with a high dosage of mdma which determine the risk, but also the circumstances in which the drug is taken and the individual sensitivity of the user.

Information

Reijmers states that only in a regularised market can users be properly informed and that parents are able to have an effective dialogue with their children about drugs.

This is a remarkable supposition. The Dutch government facilitates independent websites and initiatives which inform people about the risks of drug-taking and ways to minimise these risks. These reach a large audience, although it could be larger. But no other country in the world provides its citizens with such comprehensive, non-moralising information on drugs.

Warnings

Via drug rehabilitation centres, the Dutch government also gives out warnings when dangerous pills are in circulation. There is a monitoring system in place which offers users the opportunity to have their xtc tested. This unique system is now slowly gaining ground in other countries.

It is true to say that parents have not always been served well where information is concerned and more will be done to enable parents to talk to their children about xtc, to debunk myths about drugs for moralistic parents and to provide information about the risks for frivolous ones. Moralism doesn’t get us anywhere but neither does trivialising the problems.

This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant