Remember the drug safety videos from elementary and middle school where the mantra “I’d rather be a chicken than a dead duck” was tirelessly used to instill fear in young minds and forever blacklist all mind-altering substances (coffee and alcohol included)? Needless to say, that is not the reality for most people, especially in college. Luckily, there seems to be a new “drug safety” or “harm reduction” video on the horizon, recently screened by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and directed by SSDP alumnus Eddie Einbinder.
The educational film “Play Safe” is based on Einbinder’s book “How to Have Fun and Not Die,” which promotes the same goals of reducing harm when using illegal and legal substances. While lecturing at campuses across the nation, Einbinder thought it would be more beneficial to provide a visual aid to complement the themes discussed in the book.
“We wanted to make a completely real drug education film unlike anything that’s been done before,” Einbinder said.
The film captures the 15 most common drugs being used by willing individuals Einbinder either knows personally or who approached him about being a part of the film. Some scenes are more whimsical than others, with the LSD sequence playing out more like a comedy scene, but, for the most part, it does not stray from a didactic approach to drug use.
Each individual describes what it is they’re feeling while they’re under the influence and, in some cases, Einbinder interjects with commentary explaining the harm associated with the particular drug at hand.
“The goal is not to promote or condemn drug use, but I was always worried that people would immediately write us off as trying to convince people that drugs are okay,” Einbinder said. “I’m pro-education.”
Though seemingly controversial, the film remains objective and simply portrays the reality of drug use. The opening sequence, which Einbinder says was absolute “hell” to film, shows a girl being rushed to the hospital after vomiting caused by her ingesting psilocybin mushrooms. Though unplanned, the reaction is exactly what the film needed to write off any critics deeming that the film “condones” drug use.
“To me, it doesn’t condone drug use at all. It doesn’t make it any easier to choose a drug knowing all the risks at the top of your head that can come out of it,” Blaine Harper, SSDP chapter president, said. “It is always possible to have a negative experience.”
However, high school and college administrations have still been hesitant to screen the film, claiming that they cannot “acknowledge the use of drugs.”
“I think I’ve taken advantage of not having a license to lose, which allowed me to feel the freedom and courage to work on all of this and do all of this knowing I wouldn’t be ostracized by a community I was a part of,” Einbinder said.
Though other organizations have promoted similar goals of harm reduction, none are as focused on reaching out to the population of college and high school students that is affected the most, especially about alcohol, which Einbinder calls the number one killer of kids today.
The ultimate goal is to “reinvent health class” to help society “acknowledge the issue.” This is a goal that Columbia seems to be moving towards, with the recent repeal of the dry-dorm policy representing a shift towards acknowledging responsible alcohol usage.
“We are only harming the people’s choices by regulating only by saying ‘never,’” Harper said.
The Responsible Community Action discussions and the new alcohol education program added to NSOP this year both serve this purpose of “educating people to make the right choice,” falling in line with Einbinder’s ultimate goal of understanding.
Correction: An earlier version of this article described the girl in the film as overdosing, rather than vomiting. Spectator regrets the error.