Over the years there have been many messages designed to reduce the harm associated with drug use. Some of these have involved information provision, designed to give drug users more information about their drug of choice, while others have dealt with the more controversial tips on how to use more safely. No matter what the message, if it doesn’t come from a credible source or doesn’t register as believable, it has little chance of being picked up by the user group.
Sometimes I look at the messages and wonder how some of them are ever going to be accepted, as they often don’t match users’ experiences. One example that springs to mind is around polydrug use, or using drugs in combination, for example drinking alcohol and taking an ecstasy pill or having a smoke of crystal and a hit of G during the same session. One of the key messages we give around mixing substances is that this practice may increase the effects of each drug dramatically and may produce different and unpredictable reactions. As a result we urge people not to mix drugs. However, what we know about most Australian drug users is that they do mix their drugs and many of them don’t appear to experience great problems, in fact some would say that mixing actually improves their drug experience. This sort of experience doesn’t match up to the messages that we are putting out into the drug using community and as a result many people simply decide to reject all the messages, thinking they’re lying to me about this, they’re most probably lying to me about everything else.
One of the messages that many people reject is the one about mixing ketamine and alcohol. The major reason that we tell people to avoid this combination is that as K is an anaesthetic, there is the strong possibility that using it with alcohol will cause vomiting at the very least. However most people will tell you that doesn’t happen very often. In fact there are some people who mix the two drugs every time they use K and they have never experienced that problem. Once again, this really damages our credibility and can result in all messages being dismissed.
This is why messages need to be accurate, meaningful and credible to the target audience. One of the messages that continues to concern me is G + Alcohol = Death. This is a message that originates from the US and is highly problematic -“ as it is not entirely truthful. Without doubt there is the possibility of death if you mix these two depressant drugs, but the reality is that research has shown that over one third of GHB users do drink alcohol when they use G and they don’t die. Unfortunately there are many G users who simply don’t believe any of the information we disseminate because of the simplistic and often sensational messages that have been created.
So what’s the answer? Messages need to be simple for people to understand them and to pick them up. However, drug use is a complicated issue and sometimes the messages we create aren’t sophisticated enough to handle all the subtleties around the topic. Different drugs affect different people in different ways -“ even though the messages are not relevant to all, all the time, they are often the best we can do and need to be considered by all.