Amid growing nationwide concern around the opioid crisis, President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have repeatedly touted one of their favored approaches to the issue of drug use: Tell people not to use drugs, and hope that works.
“If we can teach young people and people, generally, not to start, it’s really, really easy not to take them,” Trump said last month, as he announced his plan to combat the opioid epidemic.
“We’ve got to re-establish, first, a view that you should just say no,” Sessions said in a separate event the same day. “People should say no to drug use.”
Although this technique may be temping ― if for no reason other than its simplicity ― the past shows that it fails to deal with complex social factors that influence drug use. Humans have been getting high since prehistoric times, for reasons ranging from boredom or curiosity to genuine efforts to promote wellness. Simply telling people not to do drugs has never worked as an overarching policy, especially when authority figures have so frequently relied on a dishonest or grossly exaggerated rationale to make their case.
The antidote to this deception is an open, fact-based discussion about drug use. That’s why HuffPost is partnering with the Global Drug Survey for its 2018 edition. The Global Drug Survey has been conducted annually for the past five years, gathering hundreds of thousands of responses from people around the world in what it calls an effort to explore “how, where, when, why and what drugs are being taken,” and ultimately to make drug use safer.
“Honest conversations build respect; they allow informed decisions,” said Adam Winstock, the British psychiatrist and addiction researcher who created the survey. “Directives based on ideology and no evidence get questioned, and the source loses their authority. Trump, sadly, is so barely believable on anything that even kids would see through it as fake news.”
The Global Drug Survey is an independent research company that, since 2012, has partnered with medical experts and media groups to distribute and analyze a yearly questionaire. Last year’s edition compiled responses from more than 115,000 people in over 50 countries, and focused on topics that included marijuana law reform, the availability of drugs on the dark web and psychedelic drug use. The data showed that hallucinogenic mushrooms and LSD were among the safest recreational drugs.
More than 10,000 people from the U.S. responded to the 2017 Global Drug Survey, and Winstock is hoping to increase that number for the 2018 edition in order to get a clearer window into specific issues surrounding American drug use.
With a growing number of states legalizing recreational marijuana or otherwise relaxing laws, cannabis users themselves may offer insights that can influence regulations, encourage responsible use, and improve efforts to provide resources for people seeking help, Winstock said.
Winstock also noted that previous Global Drug Survey editions have shown the phenomenon of recreational prescription drug use and abuse, including of opioid painkillers, to be largely American. That doesn’t mean other nations haven’t faced similar problems around drug addiction, however.
The U.S., rather than taking cues from other countries’ successes, has responded with policies that have failed to stem the tide of overdose deaths and related health problems ― and may have actually exacerbated them. With indications that Trump is returning to these ineffective ideas, any additional perspectives that can help inform the debate should be welcome.
“Having honest conversations about drug use does not lead to people using drugs,” said Winstock. “It engages people who are usually interested in their own health and well-being and that of their community.”
Survey submissions are open until Dec. 30, 2017. The Global Drug Survey will publish the results in April 2018.