With a campaign on campus, the Municipality of Rotterdam, Erasmus University and Youz addiction care want to raise awareness about the criminal activities behind hard drugs. One of the posters reads: “You keep this going with every pill and gram.” As long as people want to use drugs, young boys will be drawn into the criminal circuit, one of the anonymous former dealers explains in the film, ‘because those boys need money and dealing seems easy’.

Disturbing images

This week, the soothing and cosy environment in the Living Room is contrasted with posters full of blood, guns and drugs. They are quite disturbing images, thinks Ella Goldfarb (23, Psychology graduate). “I’m not sure if this campaign is relevant to all students, I saw a few students who seemed almost shocked by what they saw on the posters. Especially in the context of the Living Room, it stands out.”

Research by the Trimbos Institute from 2021 shows that 23% of all students in higher education have used hard drugs at some point. Ahmed Karsoon (30), one of the hosts at the Living Room and a third-year Psychology major, says: “Drug use occurs among students of all faculties, all ages and all nationalities. It could by anything from taking ADHD medication like Ritalin before an exam, or people who like to go out and use hard drugs like ecstasy or cocaine.”

ex-drugsdealer drugs living room 2_ 3000_Felice de Man
Polina and Ahmed watch the film. “You see that drug use not only affects you personally, but especially the community of drug dealers.” Image credit: Felice de Man

The dealer gets screwed

In the film, former dealers share their experiences based on true stories. Among other things, it’s about drugs bring normalised. An anonymous former dealer recounts: “If you want some drugs, someone has to get it to you. It’s just that you have no idea about all the shit that happens to get that pill or gram to you.”

Three former dealers feature in the film. One of them started dealing when he was 16 because he wanted to help out his mother and brother financially. He emphasises: “You have to realise that there’s a whole system, and it’s there so you can use drugs. Only the dealer gets screwed, and you get to walk free.”

The effects and risks of all kinds of drugs listed.

You can also read the stories (in Dutch) at bekentenissenvanexdealers.nl

Polina Stenina (21) is a third-year psychology student, and is positive about the film: “You can see that drug use not only affects you personally, but more importantly it also affects the community of drug dealers. I think it’s good to be aware of the wider impact. Everyone roughly understands the health effects of drugs, but not many people know how far-reaching and entrenched the system is.”

Not judgemental

Last week, prevention expert Ilse Anker (31) of Youz addiction care discussed the topic with students in the Living Room: “Students generally first need to learn that I’m very open-minded. Nothing can shock me, because I’ve encountered all kinds of situations in my work. I am a social worker and I’m not judgemental. The founders of the campaign absolutely do not want to point fingers, partly because it simply doesn’t work”, Anker says. “We are, at any rate, always thinking about how best to appeal to students. We make sure that the campaign is not too hip, and we stick to the core message.”

Ella also noticed this: “I’m intrigued by the approach. Confessions from people with direct experience give you a better picture. In other schools, I am used to just being told that drugs are bad and that you should be against drugs, but they don’t explain why.” She does note that the posters are only in Dutch: “This means you’re not reaching a large proportion of students.”

Something that surprises many students, as well as people in general, is the impact of the drugs trade on the environment, says Anker. The amounts of chemical waste and emissions from the drugs industry are rarely discussed. Anker: “We sometimes see ‘green bags’ instead of plastic bags for drugs”, but they are a drop in the ocean.

“It is difficult to measure exactly what impact such a campaign has on students, says Anker, but she hopes students will discuss the issue ‘on a terrace with friends’.”

If you have questions or want to discuss something, you can anonymously reach out through the website or contact Ilse Anker from Youz.

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