In news that may not have been on your radar this week, a 19-year-old girl died from a suspected drug overdose at a Sydney dance party. Was she a “typical” drug user? No. Was she using heroin or cocaine i.e. drugs associated with overdoses? No – she had ingested one and a half ecstasy pills. The exact ingredients are yet to be determined but this story has really hit home for so many families in our society.
One of the main things the media has been focusing on is that Georgina Bartter was a bright, beautiful young woman, and not that she had made a choice that ultimately killed her. Should we be opening up this conversation further for our teenage grandchildren and going past the superficial, face-value stuff? No matter how much you deny it, the reality is that there are a large amount of young people who are going to parties and taking drugs, whether we know it or not. It’s unlikely that Georgina’s poor parents would have known anything about their daughter’s drug taking activities because why would they? Do your grandchildren speak to their parents or you about what drugs they’re going to do on the weekend? I doubt it.
Are we sensationalising drug taking? And is this why our grandkids are taking illegal and deadly substances? Acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died earlier this year but you’d be hard pressed to find an article that focussed on the fact that the man, although a much-loved father and friend, was a drug addict. It was almost as if his cause of death was irrelevant because a wonderful man had died. It is similar in the way the media has portrayed young Georgina – she was beautiful, but beautiful or famous or talented people are not exempt from making fatal mistakes or decisions. Granted, it is a devastating situation but how could it been avoided? Should she have had more drug education? Or did she, like the friends she left behind, need a shocking example to hammer the point home, as awful as that sounds?
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What can be done to change the drug culture that we have in Australia? According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, one in five 14-19 year olds has tried cannabis, 4.7 per cent had tried ecstasy and 2.1 per cent had tried cocaine. In Europe, pill-testing kits or booths are available in some venues so that the users can be informed about what’s in their illicit drugs. Young people are actually supportive of drug testing as well – research from the Australian National Council of Drugs shows that 82 per cent of the 2,300 young Australians aged between 16 and 25 years surveyed supported its introduction. And, as written in The Conversation, pill testing has been shown to change the black market in positive ways. Products identified as particularly dangerous that subsequently became the subject of warning campaigns were found to leave the market.
And how can we, humble grandparents, educate our grandchildren about drugs? They often forget that drug culture was rife when we were growing up: we had the swinging 60s and hippy 70s and the night club era of the 80s when our own children were going to nightclubs. We’ve seen it all and some of us have tried it all once or twice. We’ve seen more people die as a consequence than we care to remember, so why shouldn’t we share our knowledge? After all, we know all too well about kids who want to rebel – telling them they can’t or shouldn’t do something only makes them want to do it more. Plus, grandchildren feel more comfortable speaking to their grandparents, which puts us in a very important position. What will you do when the conversation comes up?
Perhaps this tragic news story about Georgina will start a progressive movement towards drug testing….or maybe it will become just another tragic story where invincible teenagers think it won’t happen to them.
So there is the million dollar question: should we be providing better information for drug takers so that they can make informed choices (ala STD and STI sexual health campaigns) or should we continue to attack the problem at the source like we currently are, i.e. drug busts and trying to shut down labs? Tell us your thoughts below.