From the archive

A look back at the Ob­server Mag­a­zine’s past

The Observer Magazine - - Up Front - Genevieve Fox

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.’

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