Considerable attention has recently been placed on the deleterious impacts of “legal-highs” as well as the various harms related to methamphetamine use. These two drugs in particular have received much media attention and have quite rightly led to the design of specific strategies to limit their supply and use. A recent study by Massey University revealed that “P” was now far easier to purchase than cannabis and that in some Northland communities it was easier to obtain than a block of butter – at least according to a local criminal lawyer.
For all these issues, and notwithstanding their significance, these debates seem to have drawn attention away from drug related issues which are arguably more pervasive - and especially when measured in terms of lethality and community social impact.
We need be reminded of the significant harms which are directly and indirectly attributed to alcohol consumption and abuse. By far New Zealand’s most available and accessible drug.
Recent video footage of an individual high on synthetic cannabis was the catalyst for extensive public debate on how this drug could be so easily purchased and consumed. Ironically, similar alcohol related footage could have been acquired from any Hospital A@E service, on any weekend of the year, or from numerous other garages, nightclubs, bars, and social and sporting events throughout the country (many of us would well remember our observations from the Wellington 7’s). Domestic violence, unsafe sex, motor vehicle accidents, liver disease, crime, and assaults have all directly been linked to excessive alcohol consumption. Not to mention how the consumption of this legal drug impacts on the unborn child and its role in driving up Māori rates of mental illness.
Yet, and for all the evidence, access to alcohol over the past several years has increased. It has become an accepted part of our culture and national identity, often a right of passage for our youth, and where the harms (significant though they are) seem to be a natural part of “a good night out”. If “P” is in fact easier to acquire than butter, we should certainly be concerned that there are far more sellers of alcohol in our community, than there are supermarkets selling butter. Ironically supermarkets now sell both alcohol and butter with the former often at a cheaper price.
Our perspectives are in no way designed to draw attention away from the need to aggressively develop strategies to control the consumption and availability of both P and synthetic cannabis. However, we often get the sense that we are simply putting out hot-spots - while a forest fire is allowed to rage in the background.