It’s ten whole years since the Government launched their new weapon against the war on drugs – Frank. I’m guessing the name was intended to be a pun bulging with bathos.
At the time the campaign went public, there was a real need for something practical and useful for young people. Drug use was at an all-time high, and ecstacy had become cheaper than alcohol. Schools didn’t have a clue how to deal with drug use, with responses ranging from ignoring it to calling the Police, parents knew they were out of their depth, and the links for young people between vulnerability and drug use grew fiercely stronger.
The problem with Frank was – it was absolutely shit. Fancy branding and expensive adverts could not hide the fact that on the end of the phone was not Frank, knowledgable big brother with his hand on your shoulder and a quirky sense of humour, but instead Bernard, a middle-aged divorcee with charisma issues who works in a call centre and hasn’t yet quite mastered the software providing him with his stilted answers. It was like having a conversation about sex with a nun on an iPhone. I could have got better drugs advice off my grandma. Thinking about it, Frank could easily have been the most common name amongst its employees.
Ten years on, there are claims that this service is somehow linked to the reduction in drug use nationally. Then there is the opposition that the service has not stopped anyone taking drugs. These positions both seem to miss the central purpose of the service, as I understand it – Frank was never intended to stop people taking drugs. It was developed during the heyday of harm reduction, and was created to provide information so people made more informed decisions about their drug use.
These misconceptions are either accidental and come from the assumption that ‘drugs are bad, kids’, or are purposefully missing the point to support whichever political argument you might favour. However they may also be symptomatic of what Drink and Drug News have called ‘stigma created by an abstinence-focused recovery wave’. Which side-lines drug users. Which means people don’t get the information or support they need. Which leads to health and social problems. Which is why the harm reduction movement started. (Can anyone else see a pattern emerging..?)
I have to agree with the critics – that this is an attempt by the Government to plug a hole that should be filled by comprehensive drugs education in schools (possibly why it has escaped budget cuts so far). But as long as the drug stats are falling, despite this not being the raison d’être for the service, the politicians can sit back and say they are ‘addressing’ the drugs problem.
However, considering that they had nearly four million contacts with young people last year, Frank certainly seem to be doing something right.