Drugs are being openly taken, bought and sold in Clitheroe and the surrounding villages. Drugs are “rife” to quote one of hundreds of comments responding to my original question on Facebook’s “Clitheroe Gossip”. This is my shot at summarising some of those comments and then drawing some conclusions.
There is no typical drug-user. There are still some supporting their habit through crime but today’s drug taker can be anyone from a kid smoking weed in the park to “arrogant, upper class people…coked up to their eyeballs” in the most expensive pubs and restaurants. Many are in “respectable” jobs social workers, childcare, health care workers, teachers. Many are in their 30s, 40s and older. Some are addicts; for some it is simply what they do to have a “good night out”, or even after a wedding or a funeral.
“Everyone’s doing it”: not true, certainly from the posts and messages I’ve received. But this is arguably one of the most potentially harmful things that could be said: it is a phrase used to pressure vulnerable adults and childrens into drug-taking. That is the main concern of many of the people who posted. Even those who are quite tolerant of drug-taking do not want it be as open and public as it has become. Because it is so prevalent that it is seen as the “norm”. Drugs are relatively cheap and for people under 18 far more accessible than alcohol where strict licensing and enforcement has limted supply.
Is it a problem? Some people say it is an increasing problem: some say that it has always been there. Both could, of course, be right. We certainly shouldn’t use it to demonise young people or any other group. Many people posted about the negative effects on their neighbourhood: noise, litter and anti-social behaviour with used needles and drug paraphernalia left lying around. Some pointed out the effect of legal drugs, especially tobacco and alcohol presumably with the implication that some or all drugs should be legalised: but that wasn’t my question. My question was what we as a community can do if there is a problem. I believe that there is a problem if young children are being involved in dealing and distribution with large amounts of money being used as inducements. The wealthy drug users who some of you have told me about are not engaging in a victimless crime when they take cocaine: there is a whole system of exploitation and violence involved in the drug supply chain. There have also been a number of drug-related deaths in the Ribble Valley in recent years.
A number of people support legalisation – but that wasn’t the question I asked and that is for others to decide. Although no-one said this, let me: drug-dealing is against the law and people don’t like seeing the law being openly flouted. If people can break this law without consequence, what other laws can they break? Laws are supposed to protect the weak and powerless and if they aren’t enforced (whatever law it may be) then the message is that the powerful are in control. The perception is that police no longer enforce the law. People say they have contacted 101 or crimestoppers but “nothing happened”. I and others have been warned that there is a lot of money involved in this business and we would do better to stay clear of this issue and although I have not been physically threatened others have been.
So what can we do? Firstly, we need to educate people: this Facebook post has opened my eyes to the scale of drug-taking and dealing in my town. Awareness has got to be the first step. Thanks to Mandy Brennan for forwarding these links: the first one is particularly helpful for looking out for signs of young people being exploited
Secondly, the statutory bodies need to be involved. People posted that the police and council are in denial but there is no denying there are problem areas. This is a public order issue and a public health issue and we need to hold our public services to account and ask what is being done and what more can be done.
Thirdly, a number of you have volunteered to help in whatever way you can – thank you. I really appreciate all the positive comments and hope that as a community we can do something to make this a better place for all of us to live in. I’m thinking of holding a meeting sometime in the New Year and inviting as many people with an interest and expertise to see if we can address some of the areas raised by you: but this has made me realise that this is not just one issue but a number of complex and related ones. Watch this space!