Lets start a conversation about drugs and drug use!

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New Zealand has a highly developed and largely ingrained drug use culture, which is acknowledged to spread across all lifestyles from Doctors, to Judges, to grandparents, to schoolchildren.

Lets start a conversation about drugs and drug use! These words in close proximity to one another raise the hackles of most conservative people, and even some liberal members of society, but to talk and discuss something is something of a rarity these days, and is the only way we can deal with a subject maturely and fairly.

Drug – Noun; A substance that has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.

New Zealand has a highly developed and largely ingrained drug use culture, which is acknowledged to spread across all lifestyles from Doctors, to Judges, to grandparents, to schoolchildren.
So let’s call drug use what it truly is, without blinders on, without picking and choosing, Widespread, comprehensive and complete!

Our history of drug use in this country is a varied one, the once celebrated 5 O’Clock swill, the long hours at the rugby club after the match, the private sparking of a joint in the confines of one’s own home, the music festival binge on psychedelics like LSD or Mushrooms, the smoggy boardrooms and bars of yesteryear, the occasional intentional overdose of prescribed opiates.

In today’s candyfloss and PC coloured world our leaders and the mass media that report like a trained parrot, conveniently forget to acknowledge the truth about drug use in this country. It isn’t just about those illicit drugs, the ones we have been spending obscene amounts of tax payer dollars in prohibiting for the past 40 -50 years.

Drug use is prevalent in our society, it isn’t something new, and it isn’t going to go away just because it fits a political goal to prohibit it. We humans have been in the business of looking for ways to alter our conscious minds and perception for thousands of years now, We have become very good at it, we have developed a very broad taste for it, and we have become strangely hypocritical in our judgement of it.

No matter how you look at it, this is what the world’s drug use looks like; some drugs are illegal, while others are not. Its as simple as that.

The world’s most commonly used drugs include but are not limited to Caffeine, Sugar, Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Opium (and the many opiate derived pharmaceuticals), LSD, Psilocybin mushrooms, Cactus Juice, Cocoa (and the many derived variations).

This reporter strongly believes that no drug use is good drug use, however, he also recognises that consenting adults should have the freedom to choose to use drugs when they accept the possible consequences of that drug use.
Our own bill of rights and the international declaration of human rights also acknowledge this freedom to choose to ingest any substance.

At present, we are in denial. When we see media reports on drug use, references to tobacco and alcohol for instance are often separated from the association of being a drug by using phrases like “Drug and Alcohol use” or other dissociative language. We do not largely think of alcohol, tobacco or caffeine as drugs, why you may ask? We can only speculate, but on personal reflection it would seem to me this attitude is born out of an acceptance of the legal status of those drugs.

In today’s world, we hear time and time again that drugs should be judged based on their harm to society, the number of deaths they cause, and the cost to our criminal justice system.
These expectations although noble, fail us, because we knowingly undervalue the science demonstrating harm across the whole range of drugs in our world. We pick and choose those drugs which we want to villainize, and prohibit.

According to statistics New Zealand, alcohol use in New Zealand directly contributes to 1000 deaths per year, many diseases like liver, kidney, bowl and heart problems or cancers. Similarly, tobacco use directly contributes to 4600 deaths per year from cancer and other related disease.
By comparison, some prohibited drugs like marijuana or LSD have never been documented to cause or contribute to death or disease, perhaps due to their legal status restricting research into these areas.

As a subject, prohibition of drugs has been well researched and thoroughly debated over the decades, with notable examples of the failures of prohibition of alcohol in the mid-20th century contributing to the growth of organised crime and massive increases of prison populations the world over.
For the most part, it is empirically accepted that prohibition does not work to deal with the problems of drug abuse in society; it only creates criminals of everyday citizens, very rarely affecting the hugely powerful international drug cartels, which profit from the illegal status of drugs.
Demand still exists despite the well-known illegal status of prohibited drugs, and people continue to use and abuse these prohibited drugs at ever-increasing rates.

More modern, radical viewpoints on drug abuse and prohibition have and are being trialled in small countries like Portugal, where the issue of drug abuse are now being treated as a health problem, rather than a criminal problem. This approach has seen an astounding 50% reduction in overall drug use among the populace and an equally convincing decline of 25.4% in new criminal convictions from drug possession and use, substantially reducing the on-going cost of housing drug related criminals.

This policy of legalisation of all drugs, although decried as a pandora’s box for drug abuse has instead allowed the Portuguese government to focus on treating drug addicts rather than locking them away.
Peter Reuter, a criminologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, says he's sceptical decriminalization was the sole reason drug use slid in Portugal, noting that another factor, especially among teens, was a global decline in marijuana use. Similarly, he notes that critics were wrong in their warnings that decriminalizing drugs would make Lisbon a drug mecca.
"Drug decriminalization did reach its primary goal in Portugal," of reducing the health consequences of drug use, he says, "and did not lead to Lisbon becoming a drug tourist destination."
Walter Kemp, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says decriminalization in Portugal "appears to be working." He adds that his office is putting more emphasis on improving health outcomes, such as reducing needle-borne infections, but that it does not explicitly support decriminalization, "because it smacks of legalization."

New Zealand has a drug abuse problem. It is prevalent, causes many problems, and carries with it a huge cost. It is about time we start addressing this problem honestly and openly, giving help to those who need it, and educating our young that abuse is the problem, not use. Everything in moderation.

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