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Having a positive influence

Recently, there has been a trend in celebrities openly discussing, both online and offline, their use of dangerous substances. Prince Harry bragged in his recent memoir that he’d taken psychedelics both for 'fun' and ‘therapeutically’ over the years, smoking cannabis in his garden at Kensington Palace and at Eton. Footballer Leon Bailey was recently seen inhaling dangerous gas, Nitrous Oxide, in images, he posted on social media.

This sort of messaging is extremely irresponsible, and it is disappointing to see such behaviour from those who act as role models to many of our youngsters. Given the known harms of these drugs and emerging evidence of the links to psychosis and mental health, it is extremely unhelpful to have people in influential positions shouting about their use of such substances.

Since becoming Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset I have lobbied government for tougher sanctions and more control over both these substances and campaigned to raise awareness of the dangerous risks of taking them, to both physical and mental health.

Both of these substances are often labelled by people as “harmless fun” and the tacit acknowledgement that the use of drugs is okay by people who should know better, like the instances mentioned above, is encouraging such misinformed thinking.

But these substances aren’t harmless at all, they can have detrimental and long-lasting effects on users' lives. Many young people will use Nitrous Oxide in unsafe environments and mixed with alcohol, putting themselves at great risk. The drug can cause long-term health problems such as a deficiency in vitamin B12, nerve damage and paralysis. Regular or heavy use of the drug can also cause anaemia and hallucinations. Those who use cannabis are risking psychosis, cancer, birth defects and a myriad of other possibilities including premature aging.

It is not just medical damage that these drugs cause; both can be ‘gateway’ drugs too and I would urge you to take a look at this video – Dying For A Fix.

It is also important to note that taking such drugs does not just have an impact on the user either. I would ask those who take illegal drugs or think that ‘drug taking’ is no big deal, and that it doesn’t do any ‘real harm’ to think again and maybe consider those vulnerable children who are ‘groomed’ into selling cannabis or MDMA; those who are subjected to the practices of modern slavery by organised crime groups to produce the drugs you may take at the weekend; and those who are treated with violence and intimidation to make sure you have your ‘fix’ - there is absolutely nothing ‘harmless’ about any of that.

On reflection, all of us and particularly the role models in our society, whether that be a sportsperson or a celebrity, need to stop and think before endorsing the use of dangerous substances. We all need to think about how our actions may affect and influence others and most importantly, we need to educate our young people on the risks associated with taking such substances, ideally so they avoid them completely.

David Sidwick

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner

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