“Taking a pill once a year is different to filling your nose every week”

Crime reporter Mick van Wely: "The Netherlands shows many signs of a narco-state"

“Taking a pill once a year is different to filling your nose every week”

Symposium for students on the risk of using drugs

10-04-2024 · Reportage

Alcohol, cannabis, MDMA, cocaine, speed, ketamine, 3-MMC, LSD: answers to the question ‘What have you ever taken?’ pour in on the large screen in the Sint Janskerk. Only a handful of the almost two hundred students present fill in ‘nothing’ on their mobile devices. No, the use of drugs is certainly not a taboo among students, as appeared this Thursday evening (4 April), at a symposium about the risks of such use.

An evening initiated by the student associations Circumflex and Amphitryon (connected to the Hotel Management School), aided by the Waar Trek Jij De Lijn (Where Do You Draw The Line) foundation, which devotes itself to creating national awareness about substance use. Participation is voluntary, although first-year students in particular are encouraged to attend, says Circumflex chairwoman Sarah Cox. “We feel it is important especially for them to see that snorting a line or swallowing a pill is not something that is ‘just’ part of student life.”

The latter is a danger, says Pauline Heuperman, prevention expert for mental health care organisation Mondriaan, to the students present. “Using drugs has become mainstream and chances of you coming across it in nightlife or at a festival are great. Then you can think: ‘Everyone is doing it, right?’”

At the same time, there is a lot of ignorance about the dangers. “These days it is often standard practice to have an emergency helicopter stationed at festivals. With an overdose of XTC, for example, you can become overheated, run the risk of organ failure, and choke on your own vomit due to lockjaw (when you can no longer open your mouth far enough, ed.).” Still, Heuperman doesn’t want to sound like a preacher in the Sint Janskerk today. “Frightening people doesn’t work. Having an open discussion does. Peer pressure often plays a role, so speak about it with each other. Also, be aware of the risks: in principle, safe use does not exist.”

Slippery slope

There is a risk of addiction, says addiction physician Julia Deuss. “I see a lot of youths with a cannabis addiction in my practice. ‘Huh, but surely you don’t get addicted to that’, I often hear people say. Well, you certainly can. The consequences are not as innocent as they seem, it has a great influence on your daily life. Sometimes also physically: I treat youths who will possibly lose their bladder due to a ketamine addiction.”

And no, nobody chooses to become an addict, Deuss remarks. “It is often a slippery slope: going from experimental use, to recreational and eventually to excessive use. Until you are dependent on it: you need it not to feel bad.” Whether someone is susceptible to addiction, depends on many factors: genetic, but also psychological (things like stress) or social (for example, coming in contact with it at a young age).

‘What if you notice that a friend or fellow student is using more and more?’, a student in the audience wants to know. “Don’t judge. There is often a reason behind it, something is not going right. Talk about it and say: ‘Maybe you need to get help’.” That is also what an ‘expert by experience’, who suffered with an alcohol and drugs addiction for more than forty years after he was abused in his youth, tells the students: “Don’t keep problems to yourself. Don’t spend years drinking and snorting your feelings away.”


But the consequences go much further than yourself, says crime reporter Mick van Wely from De Telegraaf. “As a country, we have deteriorated over the past ten years. We show many signs of a narco-state.” As an example, he refers to the Dutch figures for 2023: 60,000 kilos of cocaine intercepted, more than 120 drugs labs discovered, 1,600 criminal organisations disbanded, about two hundred cases of drugs waste dumping in nature, hundreds of drug-related bomb attacks and ten wrongly targeted murders. “The wars are carried out in the public domain; you see excesses on the streets.” As all-time lows, he mentions the discovery of a ‘torture container’ in a village in Brabant in 2020 and the murder of his colleague Peter R. de Vries in 2021. The impact on his own life is great too: due to threats from the criminal world he has been living under the strictest form of personal security for years. “My house has been transformed into a bunker and I can no longer go anywhere spontaneously.”

The causes are partly due to shortages in the police force and politicians who did not take the problem seriously enough, but it certainly also has to do with the enormous demand for drugs in the Netherlands, says Van Wely. Yet, he is not saying: Don’t use it. “I am extremely liberal, do whatever you want. But do think about the consequences. I am absolutely shocked to hear from students that in many homes on a Friday evening there is a line of coke on the table. Taking a pill once a year at a festival is something different to filling you nose every week.”

Dark side of Maastricht

Those who think that crime is mainly elsewhere in the country: Maastricht also has a dark side, says a public prosecutor (she does not divulge her name) from the Limburg Public Prosecutor. “Students sometimes also get caught up in this, for example, by making their room available as storage location for dealers. They are vulnerable for this because they may need money or are themselves users.” Also, just being in possession of drugs (more than an amount for personal use) can lead to a criminal record. “Which can have major consequences: sometimes you are no longer eligible for a Certificate of Conduct (Verklaring Omtrent het Gedrag, or VOG), which you need for certain professions. Or you are denied entrance into certain countries, such as the US or Australia. A pity for that internship abroad or that trip you planned with friends.”

There is a chat afterwards with (non-alcoholic) drinks. There were a few shocking examples to be seen this evening, a group of students concludes. “It is not like I am going to stop with everything immediately, but I will think more about it,” says one of them. Another decides: “I think the first time I do a line of coke has just been pushed forward.”

Tags: drugs,addiction,cocaine,xtc,cannabis,mdma,3-mmc,risks,use,crime,students

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