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Muddled thinking behind drug policy criticism

4 October, 2005

Muddled thinking behind drug policy criticism

Wellington coroner Garry Evans has ignored best practice and a wealth of international evidence in his criticism of New Zealand’s harm-minimisation approach to drug policy and education, the Drug Foundation said today.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said it was disappointing that this emotive issue would be manipulated through misinformation to undermine existing efforts to dealing with young people and drug issues.

"The criticism of harm minimisation is an argument based on rhetoric and not on evidence, and is wrong in a number of ways," said Mr Bell.

"Harm minimisation is recognised internationally as the most effective and comprehensive way of tackling drug-related harm to individuals, their families and the community. Harm minimisation advocates that people not use drugs at all, and is very clear about the significantly-increased risk for young people.

"In an ideal world, people will know the risks of drug-taking and stay away from them. However, we live in a world that has banned many drugs for many decades and warned against using them but the reality remains that people still use drugs.

Mr Bell said that there were parallels with the attacks on harm minimisation with the rhetoric that surrounded the United States' 'war on drugs'.

"It would be dangerous to consider any proposals to replace the harm minimisation approach with an American-style 'war on drugs'. This approach might provide a good sound-bite but, in practice, the results would be disastrous," he said.

"The drug-war approach has seen drug use rise significantly for 20 years in the US, while it locks away more citizens than any other developed nation. New Zealand per capita sits second in that statistic; we need policies that ensure we at least rise no higher."

Mr Bell said that a number of drug policy initiatives were starting to make an impact on drug use and the effects on young people.

"New Zealand is seeing tangible benefits in the nationwide youth and drugs community action programme (CAYAD), schools’ efforts to reduce drug-related suspensions, strengthened drug treatment services for young people and the pilot youth drug court, which has provided young offenders with effective treatment and social support instead of prison," he said.

Mr Bell also questioned whether the coroner’s recommendations can be supported by his findings into the deaths of six young people.

“Mr Evans has drawn a very long bow by recommending a major overhaul of New Zealand’s drug policy and education based on the findings of six tragic deaths from gas inhaling.

“Indeed, his recommendation for a national drug education campaign ignores all the evidence about how to most effectively deal with inhalant abuse, which actually warns against publicising the issue because it can lead to increased inhalant abuse.

"New Zealand drug policy and drug education programmes must continue to be based on the best-evidence, and we strongly urge decision makers, treatment providers and educators to continue with actions that are proven to be effective in both reducing drug use and the harm caused by drug use.”

ENDS

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