Hello free world – Eric here!

This is my first independent blog. I am really excited to be starting as a freelancer, continuing of course to work in the drugs field but also exploring, hopefully, wider avenues.

I also start my part-time PhD at the end of September. I am determined to find more clues about how some of the most socially excluded young people thrive and succeed.

It’s been a common gripe of mine when working  in the drug prevention field that we’ve permitted the demonisation of adolescents,  normalising the perception that they’re all out to mug old ladies and only interested in getting pissed or off their faces. “Adolescent” is a derogatory term, rather than describing the important transition from youth to adulthood. My experiences over the past (almost) 20 years working in various roles in drugs, health and social care settings has been that, with respect, patience and responsibility, young people have inspired me to think that the future might be better rather than worse.

I hope that this will be an active blog, where we can share experiences not only about difficulties but about success. For me this is an exciting time, not without risks of course, but if we don’t take risks, we don’t appreciate life. I feel energised and liberated – now, I just need to get some work in to pay the mortgage!

Looking forward to hearing from others.

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7 responses to “Hello free world – Eric here!

  1. Hi Eric, If you are the same Eric Carling who once had the title “South East Alcohol Coordinator” good to make contact. Your bleuprint comments are very well made, but the evidence for effectiveness with young people has always been hard to find. Nothing changes then!
    I’m of the school that sees the Alcohol Industy’s enthusiasm for inclusion in “Alcohol and other drugs education” as suspect,and subject to the view that exposing all children to notions and info about drugs and alcohol could be seen as priming the large % who would never think about or act on drug and alcohol.
    Targetting vulnerable children ( the usual suspects, loss, trauma, social and educational exclusion, in care, parental split before 12, parental drug and alcohol dependence) seems a much more rational approach. But then rationality has been absent in drug & Alcohol policy for a long time.
    It’ll be good to foloow your blog as your PhD develops.
    Kind Regards

  2. Hi Eric! Excellent to hear of your freelance status and PhD – good luck! I’m with you on taking risks, being energised and feeling liberated =) Maddie and I went ahead with setting up Sorted as an independent charity. I did work with the NHS for a while in smoking cessation. However, I’m off to do some work with Fast Forward and tackle smoking prevention with young people. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a blank canvas and I’ll be mainly in East Lothian. I think I’ll be sharing an office with the Mid and East Lothian Drug and Alohol Action Team. I know it’s often chilly up here, but do let me know when you venture north for a visit, it would be great to see you! Wishing you every success and I’ll keep reading. Karen (last met at the interview at that fabulous castle!) =)

  3. Hi i think you were right to quit , this goverment is impossible . My father recently died from boozing all his life , he was a fitness instructer in the army for many years , and yet never got told or believed booze can kill , it was not a very nice death either , he was 57 . Alot of my friends and i take these types of drugs ,and other illegal drugs and always have done since i was about 16 , I am now 35 and in very good health with a decent job and have never been in trouble with the police.
    Booze and fags kill and yet they are legal , be a bit more like Holland , where you can smoke a joint if you like , its not harming anyone , and to be honest most people who do smoke weed are so chilled out they do not start fights on a friday night etc , which needs more policing etc.
    What i say is legalise more drugs , it will cut down crime and we will have less drunken lunatics on the streets .
    Also if the goverment made the drugs and sold at outlets like in Holland , they would be much safer , and also could pay tax on those .
    It does not matter what you ban , drugs will always be there , alot of people in victorian times took drugs such as cocaine , opium , high in society and yet no one said they were criminals.
    Live and let live .
    The newspapers do not help by publicising the fact were you can get all this gear from either , my son did not know about any of these legal highs until about two weeks ago and has already bought some on the web and experienced it .
    He would never have known , if it was not for crappy newspapers that blow everything out of proportion.
    In the whole world , most people who die from drugs are either to young to try them , or have had to much normally mixed with booze, or have died from something else , and they blame it on the drug.
    I think i have had a good rant .
    Good luck in your new career jackie

  4. Mike Eustace

    Hello Eric,
    What part of the concept “advise” do you not understand?
    Your job is to advise, i.e make recommendations, not to make policy. It’s the Government that makes policy.
    If you can’t cope with the Government deciding that your advice is not to be acted on, when they have to take many other things into consideration, then you do well to resign.
    It is sheer arrogance to expect that anything you advise must be followed to the letter.

  5. raymond simms

    Eric I am not well versed in the subject of drugs but in my opinion we have a drug here in Mephedrone that seems to be killing people left right and centre .Looking at it that way I would have thought that a man of your so called eperience would welcome the banning of this and any substance that is likely to be fatal.

  6. Michael Dennis Stagg

    You mention media and political pressure and the reports note the request to those enacting investigation to step down, you failed to note, or mention as an issue Public pressure, which after all is what MPs represent, the safety of children seems to be little in headlines of propaganda of Quangos earning to attain a result that suits big business and attacks the police. If you cannot see yourselves in the intended, or deluded, employment by crime, it is pretty obvious to the rest of us and we do not want to have to go out into the streets and clear up the mess of bad legislation that at present afflicts this country, nor do the ambulance crews, so I suggest you leave substances that have further delusion effects on people well alone as banned and classified materials, the very suggestion that people should harm others by the application thereof of such substances in any small part is obviously a wrong doing.

  7. Dear Eric Carlin,

    For information and possible interest, here is an article which I wrote for the Scotsman, 13th April, 2010. It was prompted by your resignation from the Advisory Council on the [mis]Use of drugs:

    http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/opinion/Hugh-McLachlan-Mill–makes.6221095.jp

    Hugh McLachlan: Mill makes us mull more on mephedrone

    Published Date: 13 April 2010
    By Hugh McLachlan
    A SCIENTIFIC adviser, Eric Carlin, resigned recently from the highly controversial and troubled Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in the wake of its recommendation to make the sale, possession and consumption of mephedrone illegal.
    He was deeply concerned about “the potential criminalisation of increasing numbers of young people”. This raises the general question of what the role of the criminal law should be. What is the justification for prohibiting particular actions and for punishing those who commit them?

    The proposed “harm principle” of John Stuart Mill, given in his stimulating essay On Liberty, is a useful starting point for considering this matter systematically. According to him: “…. the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

    He further specifies that: “His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.”

    We may remonstrate with people, according to Mill, and try to persuade them of the error of their ways. However, as long as they are rational adults who are acting voluntarily, we should allow them to make their own mistakes.

    Mill draws a distinction between those actions which concern other people and those which concern only the actor himself. With regard to the latter, according to Mill, the individual is not answerable to society and should be sovereign. However, this sort of distinction is controversial. Some people argue that it is not a meaningful one and that all of our actions can potentially affect other people one way or another. Hence, some people feel that it is justifiable to criminalise the taking of drugs even although drug-taking might appear to be an individualistic action.

    In response, it should be said that harm is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for restricting the liberty of the individual, according to any reasonable interpretation of Mill’s principle. Adult, rational human beings should be allowed to do what they choose to do if, but not only if, their actions do not harm other people. Even if their actions indirectly harm other people, their actions should still often be permitted.

    What counts as “harm”? What does it mean to say that an action “concerns” other people? These are awkward questions for a supporter of Mill’s position.

    The distinction Mill wants to make is not merely between those actions which affect other people and those actions which affect only the actor himself. He wants to distinguish between actions which breach the rights of other people and actions which do not breach their rights, whether or not they affect the other people adversely.

    He writes: “With regard to the merely contingent or… constructive injury which a person causes to society, by conduct which neither violates any specific duty to the public… or to any individual except himself, the inconvenience is one society can afford to bear for the sake of the greater good of human freedom.”

    This distinction, although difficult to make in practice, is of crucial importance. For instance, it could be the case that those who vote for candidates of one or other of the major political parties harm the rest of us if the government they help to elect makes a bigger hash of things than an alternative government would have made. However, it does not follow that such voting behaviour should be a crime. Our rights are not violated by such an action even if our interests are damaged.

    In an obvious sense, it concerns others if you live to a great age and enjoy for a long time a state pension and publicly funded healthcare. It concerns others if you do things that lead to using the resources of the NHS or any other public funds. It concerns others, harms them one might say, if people climb mountains or jog and get injured or take drugs and become ill and need expensive hospital treatment. However, it does not follow that taking drugs, climbing mountains or jogging should, on that account, be criminal offences.

    From what he says about alcohol, we can apply Mill’s view to the taking of drugs. He thinks that if people neglect their duties because they are drunk, they should be punished for neglecting their duties but not for the drunkenness as such, which is their own business. Similarly, it might be suggested that people should not be punished for or prohibited from taking drugs although they could be rightly punished for any harmful actions to others which are a consequence of their drug-taking.

    We might, as the saying goes, be tough on the crimes, but the causes of the crimes are not always our business to regulate or punish.

    There is a strong case for saying that things should always be legally available for sale to the public under, but only under, certain conditions. It is debatable whether or not these conditions could prevail in the case of some particular drugs. Whether the possession and consumption of drugs should be criminal offences is another matter. For instance, to say that it should be a crime to sell cigarettes to a minor is not to say that it should be a crime for a minor to smoke or be in possession of a cigarette.

    Actions should be legally permitted unless there is a justification for prohibiting them and for punishing those who perform the actions. Prohibition and punishment often is justifiable. However, the point is that it requires to be justified or it stands condemned. The onus is always on the banners to justify the bans. When is prohibition and punishment justifiable? If we reject Mill’s harm principle, we have the problem of suggesting what to put in its place.

    Mill raises a very challenging issue. To punish people for taking drugs because drugs are harmful to the drug-takers is perverse. To punish people for taking drugs in order to deter other people from taking drugs is unfair and unjust. The only acceptable justification for punishment is that the people who are punished deserve the punishment. It is not easy to see how we can justify punishing people who have not harmed others in such a way that their rights are infringed. Why else would they deserve punishment? Why else would we be justified in meting it out?

    • Hugh V McLachlan is professor of applied philosophy at the School of Law and Social Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University

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