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Heather Roy's Diary: 3-12-10

Heather Roy's Diary

Shooting a Butterfly with a Shotgun

I remember taking one of my young children to the GP with an ear infection. The GP said he’d prescribe a specific antibiotic, hope it was the right one and - if things didn’t improve – we should come back in a couple of days.

Wouldn’t a broad spectrum antibiotic be better, I countered - a little medical knowledge being a dangerous thing. He looked me in the eye and said that would be akin to shooting a butterfly with a shotgun.

It was the first time I’d heard the saying, but it now springs to mind whenever I encounter an ‘overkill’ situation. Too often in recent years we see such situations in legislation before Parliament – micro-chipping dogs, anti-smacking laws, and the current Alcohol Law Reform are all good examples of the majority being hit to modify the behaviour of a minority.

This week the Health Select Committee reported the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill back to Parliament. It recommended that medications containing ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine be reclassified as Class B drugs in an attempt to limit access of these substances to those making ‘P’. In practice this means they’ll become prescription medications, involving a visit to the doctor and no longer able to be bought over the counter at pharmacies.

These are the cold and flu remedies that are the most effective at controlling symptoms. The good symptomatic cure they provide makes life more bearable for cold and flu sufferers and usually enables them to keep working and get about their business more comfortably.

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In 2003 Parliament examined the ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine issue and reclassified them as Class C drugs, limiting the amount of active substance able to be purchased over the counter. The rationale was to limit the amount of precursor methamphetamine substance that manufacturers could buy, without denying reasonable access to cold or flu sufferers. It was a reasonable compromise.

This latest move, aimed at cracking down on ‘P’ manufacturers, just denies law-abiding citizens reasonable access to effective medications and has no effect on methamphetamine manufacture. Yet another example of Government’s desperation to be seen to be taking action, it will merely inconvenience the majority in a bid to modify the behaviour of a few.

My prediction of the likely consequences of this passing into law is:
• GPs – already in short supply – will have increased patient loads for those needing short-term relief from cold and flu symptoms via a prescription.
• GPs will be targeted by those seeking precursor substances for ‘P’ manufacture.
• Pharmacy robberies will become more prevalent.
• Pharmacists, well able to deal with the common cold, will lose custom when sufferers decide to tough it out.
• Criminals will redouble their efforts to smuggle precursor substances of ‘P’ into the country.
• ‘P’ manufacture will not decrease and the gangs will become more powerful in the drug production world.

The previous Labour Government took a knee-jerk reaction approach to drug control laws. National has taken the same approach. Current enforcement of the laws we have are erratic and, before adding more to the statute books, we should concentrate on properly utilising those laws we already have, rather than punishing everyone for the actions of a few.

It has been well-documented that, when it comes to deterring crime, the main factor is the chance of being caught. Heavier penalties count for little in the absence of active crime-solving. The proceeds of ‘P’ manufacture have become a staple income stream for the gangs. Following the money is the key to combating criminal activity in this sector of society.

Anyone (including politicians) who believes that making it harder for cold sufferers to purchase remedies is going to tackle this problematic gang-related activity is out of touch with reality. Their methods of sourcing ingredients are, for the main, much more sophisticated than buying a box of tablets.

There are two ways to deal with the ‘P’ problem: cut the supply and decrease demand. The two need to happen together. Cutting the supply in the face of similar or increased demand just forces up the price in a regulated environment, and those benefiting from proceeds take more risks to make more money. Decreasing demand through education and rehabilitation must occur at the same time. One thing is certain: denying law-abiding citizens access to an effective product will have no effect on demand or supply in an illicit market.

In May I wrote:
“Our society is slowly being turned on its head. The minority rules - or at least the rules are made for the minority, but imposed on all. The minority must be saved from itself by the State, and the only way the State can do this is by loading increasing impositions on the responsible people - taking away their freedom and choice.”

The withdrawal of cold and flu remedies containing ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine is another example of the minority ruling. The shotgun is out and the butterfly in the sights.

Lest We Forget – Radio Hauraki’s first scheduled transmission
Radio Hauraki’s first scheduled transmission took place on December 4 1966, from the vessel Tiri in the Colville Channel, and challenged the then State monopoly on commercial radio broadcasting.

Wellington journalist David Gapes set out to challenge the ‘stuffy and censorious’ State broadcaster (the NZ Broadcasting Corporation) with Radio Hauraki. When attempts to obtain a private broadcasting license failed the decision was made to broadcast offshore following the precedent of Radio Caroline, a pirate radio ship in the North Sea which took on the BBC in Britain.

Legal hurdles had to be overcome before test transmissions began on December 1. Listeners heard the station jingle loud and clear from DF Bob Leahy: ‘Radio Hauraki, Top of the Dial. You're listening to Radio Hauraki, Top of the Dial, and we're broadcasting a test transmission on 1480’. Broadcasting at sea also presented difficulties when strong winds knocked out the transmitter mast on the Tiri later that night and put Hauraki off the air.

At 11am on December 4, Hauraki's first scheduled broadcast began. The first song played was Matt Munro’s ‘Born Free’. Today we have a vibrant and competitive radio market-place that delivers choice to listeners thanks to the Hauraki pirate pioneers.


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