We’re way too quick to dismiss drug deaths as ‘stupidity’

Saying ‘I’d never take that much’ is immature and dangerous


From Between the Lines: what you really need to know about drugs, a special report by The Tab.

Earlier this week, yet another young British girl died from a drug overdose. 18-year-old Olivia Christopher was found dead in her tent at BoomTown festival, having taken a mixture of ketamine, cocaine, ecstasy, sleeping pills, LSD and M-Cat.

The reaction wasn’t one of sensitivity or concern – it was mocking. Half of the commenters were young, immature men trying to prove they’d have been fine in the same circumstances; the other half were middle-aged women, telling us that anyone who takes drugs essentially deserves to die.

It’s nothing new. In October, London nightclub Fabric was closed down after several teenagers died at the venue. While the closure of the club may have seemed hasty, the rhetoric around the deaths was even more rash: people called them “silly” and “selfish,” blaming them for the demise of their beloved club.

Likewise, when T in the Park faced closure after the deaths of two 17-year-olds, the backlash was the same.

Our lack of sympathy in the face of drug deaths is, frankly, horrifying. In a society as liberal as ours is with drug use, it’s baffling how we respond to fatalities – like we’re incapable of compassion if we think we’d have done better. The people who die are dismissed as “idiots” who’ve gone too hard and ruined the party for everyone else. It happens to them, we say. It wouldn’t happen to me.

There’s a tendency in young people to practise innocence by dissociation, even when it’s not to do with drugs. If someone drowns in a river while drunk, it’s easier to shrug it off and say you wouldn’t have walked that way or got that drunk than face up to the fact that it could have just as easily been you. And yes, it could have been.

The language of the tabloids doesn’t help. Every other week the Sun or the Mirror or the Express will tell us a likely story – someone killed by a “cocktail of drugs” – and we’ll laugh it off in the knowledge that we’d never be foolish enough to mix and match what we’re putting into our bodies, despite the fact we probably are.

But Olivia Christopher wasn’t killed by a “cocktail of drugs” – she died from an overdose of MDMA and Etizolam, the only two chemicals the coroner noted she’d taken a high dosage of. It wasn’t stupidity or “overkill” which ended Olivia’s life; she was killed by taking the same drugs many people her age take every weekend.

We constantly ignore warnings that pills are stronger than ever before, just as we refuse to accept that, after a certain point, we probably don’t have a clue what we’ve actually been taking. Instead, we blame “cocktails” and “dodgy batches” and overblown stories about teenagers taking more than we’d ever dare to do.

We use stock phrases and horror stories to distance ourselves from the deaths of people we don’t know because, in reality, we’re too scared to face up to the sobering truth: on an unlucky day, it could have been us.