23/09/2015 8:42 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

We Need To Say 'Know' To Drugs

Young woman holding pill on tongue, close-up
MECKY via Getty Images
Young woman holding pill on tongue, close-up

With the recent media attention to crystal methamphetamine or "ice" and the increasing concerns about the most problematic substance -- alcohol, it may be that young people are drawn to think that some of the other party drugs are attractive due to the perception of them being less risky.

Last weekend's death of a young man at the Defqon 1 music festival is a reminder that all drugs can be harmful. While there is no confirmation yet of the drug used by this young man, it will no doubt prove to be an illicit substance, and probably used in conjunction with the most common of licit substances -- alcohol.

This is not the only death that has been recorded at dance parties both here and overseas over the past few years. Opiates and alcohol cause more fatalities. No question. But this will be no comfort to the families involved.

Death is only one of the harms associated with these substances, particularly when our current drug laws mean that the market is in the hands of criminals.

The most obvious problem with buying on the illicit market is the lack of quality control and uncertainty of content and safety.

Another major concern is the risk taking that often occurs with drug taking. Cocktails of different substances, alcohol mixed with both stimulants and depressants can create a volatile consumption. Then the emotional, psychological and physical reaction can lead to decisions that could be regretted. Accidents, assaults, unwanted sex are the less expected but more frequent negative outcomes than fatalities.

It is easy to demonise a particular substance but we need to realise that the drug is only one element of a matrix involved in the drug-taking incident. The drug is legal or illegal, it is a stimulant or a depressant or in rare cases an hallucinogen, it is available or scarce, cheap or expensive, popular or out of fashion.

The other elements are the individual and the environment which are probably more significant than the drug -- it is the context that matters. The individual is male or female, the age is relevant, the size of the person is relevant, the mood of the person, their life history, their health and well-being and their history of drug use.

The place the drug is taken is very important, safety, security, police presence, drug dogs all affect the risk. Change elements of the matrix and context and the level of risk and harms can change.

Awareness of legal implications is the other thing that young people often do not consider when drug taking is considered. Drug testing is common now on the roadside and in workplaces and implications for future travel and careers can be the unforeseen and very harmful consequence.

To get young people to say no is not likely to happen with many of them, but we can get them to say 'know'. Likewise parents and families need to be able to discuss drugs in a rational and understanding way.

Keeping themselves safe, getting medical help when needed, avoiding driving when intoxicated, knowing the recovery position will save lives and reduce risk.

I cannot finish without advocating for harm reduction interventions like pill testing, safe consumption areas, and elimination of heavy handed policing and drug detection dogs. The potential benefits of these measures are very much outweighed by the potential damage.


To get in touch with Family Drug Support visit here.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 131114. For further information about depression, contact beyond blue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.