Andrew Osborn








Pot shots fired at junkies' magazine

The Guardian, 19th November 2002 13:35

Outrage over 'drug chic' women's glossy offering recipes and beauty tips to heroin and cocaine users

Andrew Osborn in Amsterdam

A women's magazine with a difference will appear in the Netherlands next month. Its glossy pages are filled with beauty tips, horoscopes, feature stories about sex and cooking and oodles of health advice - but Sister Mainline is aimed at female cocaine and heroin addicts, and its contents have infuriated anti-drugs campaigners across Europe.

Held up as a classic example of "drug chic" publishing, the magazine is partly funded by the Dutch health ministry. Its controversial message is not that hard drugs are intrinsically bad, but that they can be used "sensibly".

Its print run may be just 1,500, but its impact in an increasingly conservative political climate is likely to be explosive.

The 220-page magazine will include a step-by-step guide on how to shoot up.

"You can use drugs if you are sensible and you know where the line is," Jasperine Schupp, the magazine's editor-in-chief, said. "And to know where the line is you have to give people objective information. Telling people just not to do it is not good enough. The important thing is to tell people about the risks so they can see where they can go wrong."

The magazine will have a cooking section with recipes designed to boost the flagging appetites of cocaine addicts.

It will also include a multiple choice quiz on drugs. Readers with the most points will be told they are "really good users who know what they're doing"; an average total will bring the warning "beware of your drug dealer - you could get ripped off"; and those with fewest points will be warned that they must improve their knowledge.

Like most women's magazines, it will also include a section of beauty tips, albeit with a drug-related theme.

"When you use cocaine, it plays tricks on your mind and makes you want to scratch yourself," explained Ms Schupp.

"We advise readers to try to distract themselves, to cut their nails short and to apply a special cream."

Aimed at long-term users aged between 20 and 65, Sister Mainline will also include the real-life diary of an addict.

Since many of the intended readers are drug-addicted prostitutes, other subjects such as rape, safe sex, and treatment for HIV are also tackled.

"It's a mixture of the fun and the serious, but we're trying to help people," said Ms Schupp. "We try to do it in a light, positive way otherwise people won't read it.

"It's not that we promote drugs. But we think our readers are responsible. They are adults and we treat them as adults. We don't want to stigmatise them."

Ms Schupp also says feedback from readers who sampled a similar magazine called Mainline Lady last year was overwhelmingly positive.

"They said it made them feel better, that they didn't feel dirty any more - that it was good that it glamourises it, because they didn't feel like junkies any more."

However, Mainline's approach is not a hit with everyone, and at least one political party, the Christian Union, is considering an attempt to shut it down.

"The signal you send to society is that drug use is allowed and not bad," Jacob Pot, a senior party policy adviser, said.

"We're opposed to this. Legally speaking, selling drugs is forbidden, and it's not the government's task to get involved with this kind of thing. We may act on it."

Peter Stoker, the director of the UK's National Drug Prevention Alliance, agrees. "I have a useful tip for addicts, and that's give up," he said. "We're concerned about these publications. None can claim they're confined to, and only read by, users; they get out on to newsstands."

"It all looks tremendously exciting, soft-focus and trendy, but a lot of the material is transparent validation and promotion of drug use, and that stinks.

"It's the glamour that gets me, and I say that with 15 years experience in the field. I've been to quite a lot of funerals."

Ms Schupp, who says the magazine is selectively distributed at methadone centres, hospitals, in red light districts and in prisons, is unfazed.

"If you are happy and healthy you can continue using drugs," she said. "You can do what you want provided you don't trouble the neighbours."

Dear drug addict...

From this year's issue, Sister Mainline, due out in December:

· Skincare tips to stop addicts from scratching, and treatments for drug-induced dry skin

· A step-by-step guide to shooting up, where not to inject and how to clean your skin before injecting

· A test-yourself multiple choice quiz about drug use. Top scorers are told they are 'really good users who know what they're doing'

· Lyrics from famous drug-inspired songs

· A real-life diary of an addict

· Special recipes designed to boost the flagging appetites of cocaine addicts

· A hit parade of books on drug use

· Drug-oriented horoscopes

From last year's issue, Mainline Lady:

· Wijnie, a 38-year old cocaine and heroin addict from Amsterdam, has a hair and face makeover

· Shauna, a former addict, poses in the fashion pages

· Dear Doctor answers questions from syringe users about HIV

· In the horoscope section, Geminis are told they will 'finally manage to put on a bit of weight', while Librans are promised that their doctor will 'for once understand what your problem is, instead of just prescribing methadone'