Substance Abuse In Different Cultures: France VS The United States

UN Global Goals

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The United Nations’ 3rd Global Goal for Sustainable Development by 2030 is to promote “good health and well being.”  Target 3.5 specifically states the intent to “Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.”  Drug abuse is a prevalent issue throughout most cultures, and the issue is handled differently by each culture. From the most popular substances to the penalties for using them, cultural differences have a huge impact. So, in a semester long learning discussion with high school students at the Colbert School in Reims, France we asked the question, how different is the substance abuse issue in each country and how are youth a part of the solution?

There’s never one simple reason for people’s drug use, but some substances are more popular in certain cultures. A substance that typically defies that, however, is marijuana. The most used substance in both the United States and in France is listed as cannabis/cannabis products. Notably different though, is the next most popular substance. While they are both heavy drugs, they are vastly different in almost all respects. French studies and surveys state that stimulant substances, mainly the “party-drugs” cocaine and MDMA (better known as molly or ecstasy) These are vastly different from Americas second most used, which are painkiller type drugs known as opiates, such as heroin, oxycotin, and fentanyl. So why such a huge difference? The culture of rave and other party scenes being popular in Europe has been thrown around, but that doesn’t change the fact that opiates are much, much more addictive than the euphoria inducing stimulants.  So, where is France’s opiod crisis?  The United States massive opiod crisis has been proven to have been caused by pharmacutical companies lies and bribery.  Why weren’t doctors in France as pressured to prescribe opiates?  Maybe the lack of a capitalist, for-porift health care system in France is why.  France’s health care is socialized, pharmacutical companies profitted more in America, where they offered kick-backs, monetary rewards, to doctors for prescribing these drugs. They also denied the addictive and harmful effects.  But it seems in France the misinformation was less convincing, especially without the kickbacks, even though the drugs are different, some things stay the same.  In both countries, the primary age group using is late teens to mid-twenties.  Only recently has the government through the CDC pushed for public awareness and education campaigns about the real dangers of opioid prescription drugs.

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In big cities like Paris there is a push for decreasing the harm with the reality that there will always be addicts.

No matter what drug you are using, there are consequences if caught.  Surprisingly, France is very similar to the United States.  Both justice systems focus on jail time and fines/probation.  When charged with possession, the most many people get is a cursory dependence screening.  When someone is addicted, they are either forced into unpleasant rehab treatments or given a legal penalty.  Neither of these help curb addiction as forced rehab often only causes people to quit until released.  Despite France’s socialized healthcare, they too lack affordable rehabilitation options.  Both countries mostly have private rehabs, which can cost hundreds a day.  Unfortunately, most success stats on rehab are published by that rehab and are unreliable and often fabricated.  They both rely on older treatment models, however, France’s laws against religious groups with cult-mentality prevent the ever-so-popular 12 Step.

What makes young people want to use drugs? When it comes to recreational or “for fun” use, the cause is usually peer pressure, pop culture and young peoples often low self image.  This is entirely separate from abuse, which can be caused by recreational abuse but is more so because of social issues, mental health and other problems.  When it comes to trying drugs, a common reason is wanting to impress others.  But another cause is tv and music.  In America, shows and music that promotes, trivializes and improperly shows drug use.  Shows and musicians often don’t put disclaimers when showing drug use and usually misrepresent it entirely.  A rapper will talk big about “popping percs” and snorting coke but don’t mention the dangers.  Other times, media fails by using scare tactics which fails when people realize it’s usually BS.

All in all, France and America have a lot in common with drug use from why to what happens.