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Our Youth Advisory Panel on drug use in films and series

Posted on 11 May 2020 by the Information Unit

We sat down with our Youth Advisory Panel to talk about drug use in some of the films and series they have watched. We wanted to know whether they felt that showing drug use in films and series could normalise it and even encourage young New Zealanders to try drugs. We also wanted to know if they were concerned about certain drugs being shown and their thoughts on whether our current warning notes about drug use are good enough. 

The influence of showing people using drugs in films and series 

We were particularly interested in the Panel’s views on the influence of showing people using drugs on screen (instructional drug use) on young people.

They told us that young people may feel excited to try drugs after watching a film or series, yet they need an outside social influence to actually take the steps to do it themselves. These social influences are often friends who are enabling them and giving knowledge about where to go and how to do it.

They also discussed how negative experiences of drug use within their peer groups can contrast with the expectations they might have from watching a film. They gave examples of peers vomiting or requiring medical assistance after taking drugs despite the thinking it would be an enjoyable experience.

We asked them about the normalising effect that showing drug use on screen can have on young people. They explained that relatable situations with likeable characters, such as those in That 70s Show, can be very normalising.

The impacts of different types of drugs being shown

Members of the Panel had differing opinions on the drugs they were most concerned about being shown in films and series. Some said heroin and methamphetamine are the most concerning, because they’re the most damaging. Others thought prescription drugs such as Codeine, Ketamine or Ritalin are more concerning due to the accessible nature of these drugs. They agreed that it was important for people to see negative depictions of drug use in films and series, particularly when it comes to hard drugs such as heroin and meth:

Those depictions need to be kept honest

The majority of the Panel members said they didn’t recognise drug paraphernalia as children but can now, and a few members of the panel shared their experiences of learning about how people can get addicted to prescription drugs.

None of the panel members could remember the first time they saw illicit drug use in a film.

Content warnings about drug use

The Classification Office currently applies a content warning note to film and other classifications for drug use, but members of the Panel expressed a view that it’s important to differentiate between drug use and misuse – and that the law should have a place in determining this.

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