FRANK is the Government’s “Flagship” website for drug information and yet under ‘Intellectual Property’ they state that they do not warrant “the accuracy or reliability of the materials” therein contained (in direct contradiction to their statements in “Policy – Reducing drugs misuse and dependence” March 26th 2013 and The Drug Strategy annual review 2012-2013). This raises concerns about the value of FRANK.
FRANK’S website information on cannabis is alarmingly inconsistent and needs updating in line with research evidence. Many of the harmful risks and effects are omitted. For other drugs, in some instances “safer usage” advice is given. This directly contravenes Article 33 of The Rights of the Child, an International Treaty which states that children should be protected from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
Many opportunities to educate young people, parents and health workers about the risks associated with drugs use are missed by the trite, patronising posters such as those for skunk and cocaine, e.g. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/alcohol-drugs/drugs/frank/skunk-poster and http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/alcohol-drugs/drugs/frank/coke-poster, and videos available via the website. Death from cannabis use is not covered at all. Research has strongly linked cannabis use with strokes and heart attacks in otherwise healthy people. Coroners are now linking fatal road accidents, suicides from cannabis-induced depression, and violent homicides to cannabis use.
FRANK’S claim is that it is non- judgemental, but the vast majority of children don’t want to take drugs. Surely, young people need, and indeed want, firm boundaries and guidance which makes them feel safe and secure and ensures that they don’t damage their future, both in terms of education, employment prospects and travel? Firm structure is a good defence against peer pressure.
One striking absence from the website is the potency of skunk (80% of the market), now averaging 16% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – psychoactive), much higher than the average 1 -2% THC in the herbal cannabis of the 60s and 70s, now virtually unobtainable. Old cannabis contained an anti-psychotic CBD (cannabidiol) but it is virtually absent in skunk, further increasing the potency and fuelling the huge increase in the number of hospital and rehab admissions for dependence and psychiatric problems.
No warning is given on the website that THC which persists in the brain cells for weeks after use, impairs the total functioning of the brain. Essential new connections, which during adolescence dramatically increase, are not made; negative personality changes can occur and teens who continue to use can drop on average 8 IQ points – permanently. Recent brain scans have shown reduced volume in some areas. Neither does it say that THC damages the DNA of new cells resulting in the immune and reproductive systems being badly affected. Fewer and abnormal white blood cells mean people are more vulnerable to disease and babies may have cognitive and/or behavioural problems as they grow up. Young men may experience impotence.
In a survey of young people commissioned by the charity Addaction, it was found that a mere 10% of young people would bother to phone or obtain drug information from the FRANK website. It would appear that there is no-one charged with the task of keeping the website up to date with the latest research; hardly surprising when the FRANK service is the responsibility of three different departments, the Home Office, Health and Education. There is an inconsistency between the information given on the website and the leaflets which can be obtained from FRANK. Experience tells us that young people prefer to use the web so it is vital that the information they access is complete, reliable, factual and current.
Treatment specialists tell us that cannabis dependence is THE most challenging of all drug addictions to treat. One in six teenagers who ever TRY cannabis will become addicted.
FRANK advisors have been known to offer some very questionable answers.
In April 2009, journalists from The Sunday Telegraph, pretending to be teenagers, phoned FRANK. Callers were told that taking ecstasy would not lead to long-term damage and if they were in doubt, just to take half a pill and if they were handling that OK they could take the other half. To one who they thought was just 13 they said, “cannabis is not that harmful, it doesn’t get you that high”.
At no time were callers discouraged from taking drugs. In fact they were advised that if they were caught in possession they should claim they were for their own use to avoid being prosecuted as a dealer.
A mother found white powder in her son’s room. She rang FRANK to ask where she could have it analysed. They had no idea.