Heroin Isn't 'Chic'

Some statistics: More heroin is on the streets than 10 years ago, and it's purer and cheaper. There are more casualties from the drug and more addicts seeking treatment. Heroin - one of the most addictive substances known - is making inroads in high schools and on college campuses. Last week a panel of psychiatrists in San Diego said a rising number of affluent, well-educated heroin addicts are entering therapy and treatment programs.

One reaction - sometimes justifiable - to such statistics is to point fingers. At the movie industry. At the music industry. Most recently, at the fashion industry. Speaking the other day to 35 mayors visiting Washington, President Clinton accused the fashion industry of glamorizing heroin use by featuring pale, gaunt, hollow-eyed models in magazine ads. Heroin, Mr. Clinton said, has increasingly become the drug of choice and "part of this has to do with the images that are finding their way to our young people."

He's right. But the fashion industry isn't the cause of the heroin problem, any more than the music and movie industries are. Still, when a magazine editor publishes photos of models who look like strung-out addicts, or when a record-company executive looks the other way when a musician is arrested for heroin possession, they seem to be saying, "Nothing is wrong with this." That's the message young people are getting: that heroin is fashionable. And, worse, that it's not dangerous.

A louder, clearer message, stating just the opposite, has to be sent. Last fall, for example, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America launched an advertising campaign to counteract "heroin chic" in pop culture. President Clinton should continue speaking out. His director of drug policy, Barry McCaffrey, undoubtedly will (see opinion article by him, page 19). But as Mr. McCaffrey has said, news and entertainment industries also owe it to young people to realistically portray the dangers of illegal drugs, including heroin.

Several magazine editors say they will start promoting a more upbeat mood, that "heroin chic" had run its course even before it came under such scrutiny. Let's hope that's true. Getting rid of ads and photo spreads glorifying the heroin culture is a good start, but it won't solve the problem. A deep national commitment - moral and spiritual as well as political - is needed for that.

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