Australian expert launches assault on media 'hype' over drug issues

Crossreach, the social care arm of the Church of Scotland, has joined forces with professional theatre company Daisy Chain Associates for a project to present five powerful new short plays over five consecutive weeks, followed by a talk given by an expert guest speaker.

After the latest in the series, Paul Dillon, Information Manager at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Sydney, Australia, shared his perspective on drug and addiction issues with the assembled audience.

Dillon launched into a strong attack on the media and claimed that drug use was hyped up by the media in tandem with negative stories about young people. "It is all about perspective," explained Paul. He went on to describe how the media "doesn't lie but they don't tell the whole truth".

He illustrated his argument with statistics from Australia and the UK demonstrating that only a very small percentage of young people use heroin and even cannabis, varying between 10 per cent and 20 per cent depending on which studies you look at. "That means 80 per cent or 90 per cent aren't using cannabis - the media would have you believe that everyone is at it."

Dillon was saddened at the portrayal of young people in the media too. "You never hear the good things they do - always the bad. We should be proud of our young people," he said, adding that people were instead "frightened, shocked and scared of our young people".

However, Paul went on to affirm that Scotland does have a drug problem and that many people find themselves caught up in a cycle of addiction. He also said that "those who use drugs often have a range of other social problems". The real challenge to society, he said, was to remedy the social problems. "Then drug use would dissipate," he said.

Glenn Liddall, Manager of Simpson House, a part of CrossReach's Edinburgh drug service, commented: "That's exactly what we are about. We provide counselling to drug users. It's not about the drugs they are using. It's a question of why. Why does someone feel that they can only cope with heroin? It's the best pain killer there is.

"So often people coming to us have had the most awful things happen to them - they need drugs to block out the pain and hurt. Our job is to help them come to terms with these things and then help them reduce their drug use - when they feel they can".

Maggie Aitkin from professional theatre company Daisy Chain Associates remarked that this is not always the case. "Drug dealing is a business. Youngsters get targeted by dealers - they come knocking on you door." One of her plays describes 20 dealers in 20 streets all selling a £1,000's worth of drugs a week.