From the archive
A look back at the Observer Magazine’s past
Do we have a drugs problem in Britain, or do we not? ‘As always, the professionals and “experts” differ,’ according to Des Wilson’s report on 21 October 1973.
Heroin, Chinese heroin, methadone and morphine make up roughly two thirds of usage, with narcotics or opiates making up the rest.
Parents, ‘a generation that never knew the drug scene,’ ‘find it, and the reasons for it, difficult to comprehend and accept’. They ‘fear what they don’t understand’.
For some children, Ritalin is a gateway drug. ‘Around Piccadilly Circus... pills like Ritalin and Mandrax are selling for 50p each. Most fifth and sixth-formers will know someone in or around their school from whom pills can be easily purchased.’
No glamour is conferred on this nationwide problem. It is ‘one of acute human suffering, degradation and self-humiliation’. The stereotype of middle-class users is debunked. ‘They are mainly young, mainly male, mainly white, mainly working-class.’
‘Easily the most controversial drug as well as by far the most prevalent is cannabis.’ The price for an ounce is traced from a source in Lebanon to the streets of Britain, starting at £1 and increasing to £20. Chinatown is heroin central. The ‘dependent’ scores in Gerrard Street, which is to the heroin business ‘what Covent Garden is to fruit and vegetables: the national marketplace’.
The assumption that these drugs are addictive is a matter of debate. ‘The so-called addict’ may instead be ‘addicted to the idea that he needs drugs, when in fact, he is dependent on something to overcome personal problems… People take drugs to relieve pain’.
Drug addicts are wrongly feared. ‘For the lonely or inadequate, another basis of addiction is the need to belong… In their... moments of truth, 99% of dependents would admit they want to be part of our world, not stuck with their own.’