Sunday, 25 July 2010

Drugs: Just Say "No Idea"

In The Observer today there is a piece with a scare-mongering scream of a headline; 'Gay men and lesbians are putting their health at risk by abusing drugs.'
That line was almost certainly written by a sub - almost everyone working in the field avoids the term "drug abuse" as it's judgmental and pejorative, but anyway...
"Homosexuals are more than three times more likely to use illicit substances, study reveals", reads the sub-heading.
Well, it doesn't really reveal that. The article is referring to a report by the UK Drug Policy Commission, The Impact of Drugs on Different Minority Groups: A Review of the UK Literature, which, as the name infers, isn't so much a study, but a review of existing literature on the subject, ie actual studies.
The "three times" figure is just an "estimate" mentioned in the British Crime Survey.
What the new report appears to be arguing - it's not published til Monday - is that drug agencies need to think about tailoring their work towards different minority groups.
The article lists three "findings" about gay drug use - all are as obvious as "finding" that rain is wet or fire burns.

" ■ Illicit drug use among LGBT groups is higher than among their heterosexual counterparts
■ LGBT people may also be at risk of misusing other drugs, such as steroids
■ Use of some types of drugs may be associated with risky behaviour, including exposure to HIV infection."


If you're writing a news feature about any subject, it's always a good idea to talk to one or two experts in the field.
It bumps up the word count and pads it out nicely, for one thing.
You can drop in a few wise words from them, show how opinions may differ and fifteen minutes on the phone to them is often a good way to get a quick crash course in a subject you may know little about.
You can also get them to answer your own queries, fill in the gaps in your knowledge, and if you're amoral, pass off some of their ideas as your own.
When writing about gay issues, the default position for many straight journalists is to speak to Peter Tatchell and/or Stonewall's Ben Summerskill - they give good good quote and their names sound authoritative.
Problem is no-one is an authority on everything, and they get asked about anything, from soap opera to Chinese opera.
The second most popular go-to guys for a gay quote are the editors of gay magazines; surely they must know their pink onions?
The Observer article has been written by Jamie Doward, The Observer's Social Affairs Editor.
It would appear Tatchell and Summerskill were uncharacteristically both unavailable for comment, but Doward does get given a few (unilluminating) lines by Stonewall's press officer, Gary Nunn.
Doward also talks to Tris-Reid Smith, who's billed as "editor-in-chief of the Pink Paper".
It indicates that Doward may not be too au fait with the world of gay that he hasn't mentioned Reid-Smith's main job, editor of GT (Gay Times).
It also indicates that Doward may not be too au fait with the world of gay that he's asking Tris Reid-Smith of all people about gay men and drugs and clubs.
Reid-Smith is such a nerd and so dull and naff he probably thinks putting chocolate sprinkles on his Ovaltine is a bit racy.
He could have done the decent thing and said; "I'm really not the best person to talk to about drugs and clubs, I don't know much about them, you should talk to..."
But vanity prevails - like many journalists he's not going to turn down an opportunity to see his name in print - and he proceeds to spout forth nonsense.
Asked why lesbians and gay men "appear to be heavier drug users than heterosexuals", Reid Smith admits he doesn't have a clue; "Nobody can know and we're just guessing. Relatively little research has been done on this subject."
And why does he think "the LGBT community tend to be early users of new drugs"? He proffers; "We tend to be early adopters of technology; maybe we are early adopters of other things too."
Maybe indeed.
But wait - there's more! "Gay people in their day-to-day lives, working in regular offices, have very little access to gay lifestyle other than in evenings, which are focused around bars and clubs – and clubbers are more likely to take drugs."
Well, It's certainly something to think about.
Presumably by now emboldened, Tris even suggests a solution to the evil scourge of gay drug "abuse"; 'He suggested a flourishing gay sports community could offer clues. "If those kind of healthy alternatives to the bar and club scene were more available, we would see fewer gay and lesbian people drinking, smoking and drug-taking. People would have another outlet."
So that's a "Just say no", then?
Next time Tristram, why not just say; "I don't know".


  1. Unless I'm going mad, I can't see this article in the print edition.
    Maybe it got bumped to make way for a Hurricane Higgins tribute?

  2. EDIT: Doward probably prioritised mentioning Reid-Smith was editor of The Pink Paper as they are "media partners" to the report.
    See Tuesday July 27th blog above this, 'This Is Your Brain On Pink Media' -