Martin Evans, B.Sc., M.Ed., Director of TACADE — The Teachers' Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drug Education, centered in Manchester, England — was interviewed by Plain Truth writer John Ross Schroeder.
Mr. Evans, is drug dependency on the increase in Britain? Drug dependency is on the increase in this country. But one would have to qualify that statement by going back a step and asking what we mean by drug dependence. One of the real problems with that very terminology is that people have tended to think of hard drugs as being the only drugs capable of causing dependency. There has been an enormous increase in prescriptions and the use of drugs like minor tranquilizers such as Mogadon, Valium and Librium. We have now in the region of 28 million minor tranquilizer prescriptions a year. There is some really worrying research coming through in relation to minor tranquilizers. They do appear to create dependency in very many people who use them. So the point there is that you have got a form of drug dependency which is, as it were, medically legitimized, which affects not just a few thousand people in the country, but possibly millions of people. I would want to apply drug dependency in a broad sense to include light tranquilizers and substances like alcohol — as well as the so-called hard. or illegal drugs. Then the answer is very definitely yes — drug dependency is on the increase.
How is drug dependency becoming a major social problem in the United Kingdom? Every single drug creates its own problems. Obviously illegal drugs create certain types of social problems such as black markets, and the whole crime network that goes with it. Alcohol creates its own social problems in relation to the kind of behavior that results when people get drunk. Minor tranquilizers also create their own social problems in the way that, say, a housewife gets along with her children. What tranquilizers do is to keep people off their own particular anxiety or what you might call their own true emotional state. People in that kind of emotional vacuum are capable of doing all sorts of things. Different drugs create different social problems. They are all serious in different ways.
The attitude to addictive drugs in Britain has tended toward complacency, has it not? There certainly has been complacency in this country. When the problem extends to about 28 million tranquilizer prescriptions a year for something which many people either don't need or don't get the chance to seek alternative solutions for — like simple anxiety — I would definitely say we are in a state of complacency. And it's a situation that very definitely needs something done about it.
What is being done by government and private institutions to combat the problem? In fact what is your organization, TACADE, doing to stem the problem in this country? It is probably appropriate to talk about TACADE first. We are quite a small voluntary organization. We only have seven or eight on our staff. We have been working in this field since 1969 as a fundamentally educational organization. We get very little space in the press because we are working behind the scenes with teachers and other kinds of professional people. We say that the problem has to do with the whole range of legal and illegal substances which people use to a greater or lesser extent. The main thing that we have just done is to publish a program of drug education material called Free to Choose. It contains 40 hours of drug education material for use in secondary schools. It has 10 units of material. Three of those units relate to alcohol; one is on smoking; two or three are on prescribed drugs and the whole issue of relationships with doctors; one is on [industrial/household] solvent issues (actually it is the first of its kind in this country); two or three are on illegal drugs. This program tries to take the broad perspective. The kinds of methods we use in the classroom are not formal methods. They create a context whereby young people can explore their own attitudes and their own behavior in different kinds of situations where they might come into contact with a range of different drugs. So our program is informal in its approach. Secondly this program sees its primary focus as the teaching of what could be called social skills. The premise upon which we base this material is that when young people are in situations where they have to make decisions either to use a drug or not use a drug, quite often they don't have the social skills, or competence, to make a free choice. What we are saying is that education should provide them with the skills whereby they can actually exercise a proper degree of autonomy or a degree of choice. For example, one of the units of this program deals with the first offer of cannabis. What happens to a lad who actually comes over to a group and, as they are talking, finds someone offers him a joint, saying, "Why don't you try some?" It depicts a situation where a person is subjected to the peer pressure of wanting to be part of the group. If he refuses what are they going to think of him? This puts a certain amount of social pressure on him. He has got to make a decision. He doesn't have time to make this in six months. He makes it then and there, within say, five seconds. That is what I mean by social skills — the degree of social competence that we use all the time in our normal social interactions. So what we are doing is to increase those skills, so that this person doesn't just take the joint, but actually has developed the social competence whereby he can really exercise his own intelligent choice. That's the primary focus of the material Free to Choose. Its primary focus is building social competence. There are facts in the material but the facts are subordinate to its overall aim. That's why it is an approach to drug education, because there are other ways it could be approached.
What age groups are addictive drugs of all types affecting? Part of the popular mythology of drug use and misuse in this country has been that it is a young person's problem. We have almost doubled our alcohol consumption in the last 10 years in this country. What we tend to do is to say that young people are drinking more. Well, young people are drinking more. But there is no evidence that they are drinking more in proportion to what everyone else is drinking. That is quite an important point because adults tend to focus on young people and it legitimizes in their minds what they as adults are doing.
"Drug use and misuse in this country... is not just a young person's problem. It is the problem of the whole society."
But it is not just a young person's problem. It is the problem of the whole society. Take addictive drugs like tranquilizers and sedatives. That is not fundamentally a problem of young people. It is a fundamental problem of middle-aged people going through various kinds of anxiety crises with age, and turning to drugs because they are found to be a source of solace. So middle-aged people become addicted to them quite easily. Of course, one of the reasons why there has been so much focus on young people is that if a young person becomes addicted early in life that has certain implications for his future. Drugs, like alcohol, have considerable psychoactive potential. If a person is going through post-puberty emotional development, the effect of the drug might be to retard development as an adult. I work on the drug council in Manchester. I have a number of people with whom I counsel. I find situations where a person, say at 25, has still got to go through post-puberty emotional development because it got blocked by an unfortunate occurrence with drugs in late teens. The trouble is that at 25, some have got a 25-year-old head, but a 17-year-old emotional development. With young men and women you have much greater potential for all kinds of accidents. Quite rightly in some respects, we do focus on the young. But remember, blaming the problem on young people can very easily mask something which is widespread and affects the whole range of age groups.
To what extent does drug dependency lead to crime? Drunkenness can lead to a whole range of criminal behavior. It might be common assault, or it could be much more serious than that. But the mere fact that many drugs like heroin are illegal (and I am not advocating at all that they should be made legal) leads to criminal behavior per se. Illegality naturally leads to a black market. The fact 'that people who are addicted to these drugs need to get more drugs leads to a whole range of criminal offshoot behavior in order to raise the money. However, having said that, I would also say that drug-induced criminal behavior is over-sensationalized in relation to this country. We watch far too many American detective movies. The number of American detective programs with drug addiction as their focus is absolutely astonishing! People in this country get a distorted view of what drug addiction is and the kind of life that goes with it. That's unfortunate in many respects because it again masks the real drug dependency issues in this country. Minor tranquilizers and alcohol tend to be pushed to the back burner. Illegal drugs are in reality more of an American problem.
Is it really possible to wean people off hard drugs? Is there really any hope for say the heroin addict? There are two kinds of dependence — physical and psychological dependence. It's very easy to get a person temporarily off a physical dependence on any drug. You simply have got to get them into a hospital situation for two or three weeks. There are certain kinds of chemical treatment you can give them to actually wean them off a hard drug. That's not really the issue though. To keep people drug free you have actually got to rearrange their life-style to get them off psychological dependence. And that is the hardest job in the whole world. To change their life-style — to change their behavior and their routine habit patterns — is the hardest thing that has ever befallen human beings. There is nothing harder than changing your behavior! To isolate drug use from the context of people's complete life-styles is absurd. I mean you not only have to get them off drugs, you have to actually give them alternatives. Maybe an alternative concept, maybe alternative activities, maybe new friends! The use of drugs in a psychological sense actually can give a person a certain sort of equilibrium, or a kind of sensibleness to life even though it is abusive and leads to damage that could actually kill the person. So you have got to provide real alternatives. Having said that, without a doubt drugs like alcohol and tobacco cause far more problems than the illegal drugs. That is not to say they are more dangerous. They are simply more available. Take pubs in this country. If certain illegal drugs were to be made legal, then we would have an escalation of problems. So although tobacco and alcohol are more of a problem than the others in quantifiable terms,' the cause is fundamentally one of availability. One of the crucial things that our country needs to do is to sort out what we really want to achieve. What are our goals? What are the objectives? Then we can apply a sound educational framework to this whole area.