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Socrates and speed: Today’s youth

Jo Scard

I’m going to get all highbrow on you all.

The Greek philosopher Socrates was born in 469BC. He is thought to have made this pronouncement : “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannise their teachers.”

Sound like 2016 doesn’t it? Although I don’t get too cranky if my child crosses their legs. He doesn’t mention drug use but I bet you that kids back then had benders of a different nature, I’m just not sure what they were.

Parents have been struggling with adolescent recalcitrance for thousands of years. It was idle chatter, now it’s ice.

This week in Canberra a national drug summit is reigniting the subject of drug law reform. It’s an initiative of Greens Leader Richard Di Natale supported by Liberal Sharman Stone and Labor’s Melissa Parke, who are both co-conveners of the federal parliamentary group for drug law reform.

The facts are really scary.

The use of methamphetamines, speed and ice is the big one. Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show offences for use or possession are on the rise for a number of drugs, but amphetamines are rising fastest. NSW Health statistics show an eight-fold jump in the hospitalisation rate from amphetamine use since 2009.

The Greens point to Portugal’s success story. In 2000, 100,000 Portuguese were addicted to heroin and the country had the highest rate of blood-borne diseases such as HIV across Europe. Portugal decided to treat possession of up to 10 days supply for personal use as an administrative issue, although the drugs themselves remained illegal.

What happened? There was significant decline in the number of people who used drugs or become addicted. Across Europe, Portugal is the only country to have seen a fall in drug use.

Others say that the prevalence of drugs at festivals is the problem.

The Head of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research Dr Weatherburn thinks this isn’t what the statistics is telling him. “It would be a mistake to assume music festivals are the predominant location” for drug use, he says. Almost two-thirds of the incidence of drug offences in NSW relate to activities on the street, with residential locations the second most common.

A few weeks ago the ABC’s Four Corners program looked at the problem when reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna investigated Australia’s dance party drug scene. It was just so easy to get drugs inside to festival goers. Interestingly many were deploying their own privately supplied drug testing kits at such gatherings, as well as at home. There’s been an argument for governments to support the widespread supply of such kits at both concerts and for private use.

We made our 14 year old son sit down and watch the Four Corners story. He was fascinated with the decisions of the kids interviewed to trash themselves so repeatedly. It seems remote to him now when a can of Coke is an indulgence (we’re wowserish), but when it happens it to your kid it can happen real fast.

There are roundtables around Australia this week ahead of the Parliament House summit. Decriminalisation needs to be looked at properly, but that won’t be the whole solution. Like so many other things with our kids it’s about parenting. And it’s about education. Like empowering them to be good eaters, or good readers, or kind or generous, a strong education policy on drug use via schools utilising individual stories combined with parental support is so important.

We all know that there are ultimately limits on what police and government can do.

We need to help our kids to make good choices, informed decisions, and encourage them to take responsibility for their own lives.

Hopefully federal parliament will stop screaming at each other for a few hours this week and listen to some of the wise words of the international experts attending the summit. And then, together, come up with some new ideas to try – because we really need to try something.

Jo Scard is Managing Director of Fifty Acres – The Communications Agency. She tweets at @scardjo


Jo Scard

With over 20 years' experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism, Jo Scard is one of Australia’s leading advisers to corporates, Not-For-Profits, organisations and government. Managing Director of communications agency, Fifty Acres which is HQ'd in Canberra, Jo is a respected former political journalist in the UK and Australia working with ITV, Associated Press, Seven Network, SBS, ABC and Fairfax. A former senior adviser to the Rudd and Gillard governments and a trained lawyer she is on the Boards of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Hockey ACT and a Member of the NSW Council of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. Jo is an Ambassador for the global entrepreneur magazine Renegade Collective and a member of the Registered Consultancies Group of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. She has spent over a decade advising corporates and Not-For-Profits at CEO and board level across strategic communications, government relations and public relations and co-authored the best-selling book The Working Mother’s Survival Guide with Seven’s Melissa Doyle. More about the Author