The changing image of Class A

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The Independent Online

Whatever the Government would like us to believe, most people get their ideas about drug dealers and users from the screen and the page. The images portrayed on them are now more sympathetic than ever.

Whatever the Government would like us to believe, most people get their ideas about drug dealers and users from the screen and the page. The images portrayed on them are now more sympathetic than ever.

Hollywood thinks drugs traffickers are beautiful inventive people, according to films released this year. In Blow, Johnny Depp's take on a cocaine baron was more of a cuddly pushover than a power-hungry powder pusher; while in Traffic, Catherine Zeta Jones inspired bored housewives everywhere by showing how a sack full of charlie could be smuggled from Washington to Mexico with little more than a dissolving teddy bear and an ice-white smile.

It wasn't always like this. Ewan McGregor's portrayal of a smack addict in Trainspotting brought the grim reality of heroin addiction into Middle England's local multiplex. The film was wrongly accused of glorifying drug use but actually showed heroin in all its vein-tapping, squalid horror.

Trainspotting was a British production of course, but there are signs that our own entertainment industry is following Hollywood's lead. Recreational drugs are no longer seen as purely for E-gobbling ravers stuck in a tent in Southport. Michael Barrymore made public his appetite for mind-altering substances, and one member of teeny pop group S Club 7 was caught smoking a jazz cigarette. In both cases, all now seems to have been forgiven. Barrymore is rumoured to be in talks with ITV, while S Club 7 helped to raise money for Children In Need.

Meanwhile, real drugs users no longer fit snugly into the old stereotypes. The Face interviewed 1,000 teenagers and 20-somethings in March and 45 per cent of them told us they had taken cocaine. This was once the drug of the rich and famous, but you're now as likely to find white powder in pub toilets in Balham as in the bars of Belgravia. The truth is drug taking is as much a part of British youth culture as pulling a pint, and the cachet of illegality surrounding recreational drug use is disintegrating. So what next? Free roach material with your petrol and your grandparents skinning up? It's enough to make you sober.

Jonathan Heaf writes for 'The Face'

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