The tragic death of 10-year-old Jade Slack tells us nothing about Britain's drug culture.
When tragic accidents occur, like the death of 10-year-old Jade Slack this week, we like to feel there is a lesson to be learned – some small compensation for the terrible turn of events.
Jade died after allegedly taking five ecstasy tablets last Sunday. Though it has yet to be confirmed that the tablets were ecstasy and that they caused her death, she has already been anointed ‘Britain’s youngest ecstasy victim’ by the press.
But it is wrong to repeat ‘drugs are dangerous’ mantras on the back of Jade’s tragic death. In fact, it is wrong to infer anything at all about ecstasy from this incident.
Jade clearly wasn’t a typical ecstasy user. She had gone with a friend to a nearby house to play with a neighbour’s baby. Some have speculated that she took the tablets by mistake, possibly thinking they were painkillers, after complaining of feeling ill. The circumstances that led to her death were almost certainly random, and not the result of any of the drug-related mishaps we are often warned against.
The story would have been reported very differently if Jade had accidentally taken other tablets that could also have proven fatal. I cannot imagine headlines like ‘Weep for Britain’s youngest victim of migralieve/prescription painkillers/slug pellets’. The dangers involved in this case are not specific to ecstasy. Bad things can happen to any young child who unwittingly swallows something toxic.
But ecstasy is controversial. It has been hyped as an ‘evil’ drug that we must guard against. According to Hilton Dawson, Labour MP for Lancaster and Wyre: ‘Jade’s death proved that ecstasy should not be downgraded from its current status as class A drug.’ (1) Jade’s death proves no such thing. If Jade didn’t know what she was taking, she can hardly have been influenced by the class used by the UK government to categorise ecstasy.
Jade was not ‘the youngest victim to Britain’s burgeoning drug culture’ claimed by the Daily Mail (2), nor was she the victim of any cultural folly about how cool it is to take E. Society’s attitudes towards ecstasy did not encourage Jade to take it.
High court judge (not), sociologist (not) and expert on living in the real word (not) Lorraine Kelly, star of morning TV, ranted in the Sun that Jade’s death ‘proves that those who would legalise all drugs don’t have a bloody clue about living in the real word’ (3). What a useful comment (not). The legal status of E has no relevance to Jade’s death.
Kelly points out that responsible adults wouldn’t leave razor blades or poisons lying around for their kids to sample. So why are responsible adults who choose to take drugs (no, it’s not necessarily a contradiction) more likely to leave their coke and heroin on the coffee than their fireworks or loo cleaner? Perhaps Kelly doesn’t have a ‘bloody clue’ what being a responsible adult actually means.
Janet Betts, mother of Leah Betts who died from taking ecstasy in 1995, asks: ‘What sort of place do we live in when an innocent 10-year-old can take a stroll with a friend on a Sunday afternoon and end up at the mercy of the rising tide of illegal drugs in this country?’ (4)
What does she mean? That if fewer people were taking E, Jade would have had less chance of coming into contact with it? It’s true that Jade should never have been near ecstasy in the first place – just as children should be kept away from caustic soda, bleach, matches and medicines. But that doesn’t mean all possessing those things should be made illegal.
Of course we cannot blame Janet Betts for being emotionally affected by Jade’s death, given her own tragic loss. But we can blame the media for having a similar knee-jerk response, and for milking Betts’ response for all it is worth. Whether you are pro- or anti- the relaxation of drug laws, it is important to treat this case sensibly, instead of being swept along by a tidal wave of shock and emotion.
Whatever connection exists between Jade Slack’s death and the laws and attitudes concerning drugs in this country is tenuous enough to be irrelevant.
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