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Alejandro Navas, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

Youth, drugs and drug market work

Wed, 12 May 2010 07:50:38 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Four hundred students from Navarre high school diploma filled the Carlos III cinema. In the framework of the Pamplona Film Festival, they have been screened a block of short films of "human interest", in order to help them become aware of the problems of our society. I am the "expert" in charge of presenting the session and moderating the subsequent colloquium .

The discussion begins and a topic is immediately imposed: the joint. The young people who took the floor were indignant with the repressive adults - authorities, parents, educators - who prevented them from having free access to drugs. I am not meeting in a seminar room of intellectuals, but in front of four hundred rather uninhibited high school students, so the dialogue is forceful, almost brutal, devoid of nuances or subtleties. -A joint once in a while doesn't hurt. - "From agreement," I reply. "But regular use, coupled with other risky behaviors, soon has negative health effects." They end up accepting it, because they themselves see people their age affected, but they hide behind a slogan that seems like an incantation: "Yes, but I control".I make them see that we all - adults too - fool ourselves with that formula in the face of addiction-generating risk behaviors - tobacco, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex. If we are honest, in reality we are much less in control than we think we are. Recognizing this is the first unavoidable step in overcoming dependence. -I do what I want with my life," a girl who is no older than sixteen tells me angrily. From agreement. If you are at home, take drugs, get sick and die, that's up to you. But what do you do when you feel sick? -We go to the emergency room, to the hospital. -And who pays for health care? -We all pay for it with our taxes. -No, you're wrong. You don't pay taxes, and at the rate you're going, you'll probably end up as a wreck; you won't work and, therefore, you won't contribute or pay taxes either. Those of us who do pay taxes have something to say about the way everyone's money is spent.

At the end of the session, without the blood having reached the river, some of the teachers who accompanied their students confirmed to me that this is, in their opinion, the main problem afflicting these adolescents. Of course, not all of them think and live like those who spoke, but it is significant that only these were the ones who dared to speak out.

I was reminded of this episode, which occurred a few years ago, when reading the recent OECD study on youth unemployment (working paper of April 15, 2010). In a dramatic tone, the organization speaks of "a whole generation lost to the labor market". And this is happening in the countries with the most developed economies on the planet. The OECD fears that the current status unemployment rate will remain for young people for a long time, as previous crises have shown that it is very difficult to access a decent work in adulthood when youth has been marked by unemployment. The OECD demands strong policies from governments, which should aim at a double goal: to help them in their search for work and to improve their preparation, for which companies should be more involved.

If even the best-trained young people who are eager to work do not have it easy - precarious contracts, low wages - what can we say about those who are barely qualified? I am thinking of the 31% of students who do not manage to finish high school; of the hundreds of thousands of "ni, ni" (neither study nor work); of the many functional illiterates who have almost insurmountable difficulties in reading any simple instruction booklet. Many of the hundreds of thousands of adolescents who subscribe to the culture of the "botellón" and the joint will soon swell the ranks of this army of unemployed, with the aggravating factor that tens of thousands will suffer the effects of addiction to new drugs, as yet poorly understood, with consequences that are expected to be devastating for their health - especially the amphetamine varieties, methamphetamine and ecstasy, will be particularly frightening. Psychiatrists' offices are already recording an alarming increase in the number of juvenile and even child patients: we are dealing with a particularly fragile generation, with few inner resources to manage the normal difficulties of life. We will not leave them in the lurch, but their care will mean a hard test for families and an already overburdened welfare state.

I have not mentioned the many young people who study and work responsibly, devote time to solidarity activities and know how to have fun in a healthy way. The fact that they are not in the news means that all is not lost, despite the OECD's estimate.