From Our Own Correspondent – Ron Onions in New York 1971

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March 22, 2014 by dontbringlulubook

43 years ago this month, Ron Onions broadcast on the prestigious Radio 4 programme, FOOC as it’s known.

Here is the cue and script – as you can see the subject was and remains topical.

CUE: As the junkie problem in New York City grows more and more critical one of the city’s museums has come up with a new contribution to the anti-drug campaign. 

Ron Onions explains from New York how and why a museum became involved.


SCRIPT: The announcers on New York’s six main TV channels rarely refer to the Commercials as ‘Commercials’. The preferred euphemism is ‘Message’. “We’ll be right back after this message from so-and-so” about dog food or deodorant or whatever.
Message in this context has always irritated me, but lately with increasing frequency, there have been messages which really are messages – bad messages about drug abuse, sponsored by various local and federal government agencies. One of the best of these shows a drug pusher arriving at a school playground with a trayful of ‘goodies’ as he calls them. Glue to sniff, bennies, L.S.D. and marijuana.
Among the children who gather round, there’s a smart kid and as the pusher makes his pitch for each of the drugs on the tray, the smart kid answers back. “That can cause brain damage.”
“This can cause schizophrenia” and so on. “Cool it, kid” said the pusher. “What’s wrong with marijuana?” and the smart kid replies
“They’re not sure yet, they’re still studying up about it”. And the children melt away leaving the pusher with his tray of goodies unsold.
It’s a sad fact that this message, hard-hitting and skilfully aimed at schoolchildren is not by itself enough. Nowhere near enough. A few days ago it appeared during a break in the television news programme after they’d shown a film of a funeral of a Puerta Rican boy. He was 15, and a heroin addict. Someone had added a little rat poison to the heroin. It wasn’t the first such funeral we’d seen. The Christmas before last, they buried a black boy from Harlem. He, too, was on heroin. He was 12 years old.
In New York City today, and every day, two babies will be born already addicted to drugs. The figures on drugs and young people are particularly chilling. Seven percent of High School students in the City are heroin addicts. The biggest single cause of death in the age group from 15 to 35 is drug abuse and a quarter of the victims are under 20. Take the figures over the course of a year – more than nine hundred heroin deaths in the city, 223 of them are teenagers. Or consider macabre facts from the city morgue at 30th street and 1st Avenue. 20 years ago the average age of the junkies who were carried in there was 35 – today it’s nearer 20. Faced with figures like these Mr Joseph Veale Noble decided that the situation called for much more than messages on television but Mr Noble is director of the Museum of the City of New York and why should they get involved. Because as Mr Noble told his board of trustees he wanted to stop treating history as something that’s happened in ancient times, he didn’t want to wait 20 years to do something about the city’s great problem of today, narcotics. The Board said “go ahead” so all
Mr Noble needed was money. He managed to talk sixty-five thousand dollars out of the New York State Narcotic Addiction Control Division, enough to pay for an audio visual multi-media exhibition entitled “Drug Scene”. The exhibition’s scheduled to run 3 months and already it’s had a terrific impact where it counts most, on children not least because yellow school buses are bringing hundreds of them each day from city and suburban schools. It is not a nice exhibition. The first thing that hits you is a photo mural fifteen foot high of a youth jabbing a battered forearm with a hypodermic needle. Below this there are 3 coffins, ramming home the fact of 3 New York addictions each day. There are also the former addicts, black, white and Puerto Rican who patrol the exhibition area wearing red and white buttons with the words “Ask Me”. The children ask, the former addicts reply, without sparing the details of their own drug agonies. It’s harrowing and some children are frightened and some have left the exhibition to tears.
Some critics say that the scare and shock tactics are being overdone, but, says Mr Noble, “Maybe it’s good they get a little frightened. The tragedy would be if the stuff were made attractive to anyone.”
Most of the teachers accompanying the children go along with Mr Noble’s view. They know how bad the situation is. As one woman teacher from Brooklyn said: “ I’m afraid I have to think this exhibition is a good idea”.
From Our Own Correspondent


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