Kiwis' drug use among the highest in the world




Despite the decades-long war on drugs, Kiwis' drug use ranks among the highest in the world, a recent survey shows, with more than 1 in 7 New Zealanders reportedly using cannabis.

Cannabis user.

Source: 1 NEWS

With the five-year National Drug Policy act expiring at the end of last year, some experts say it's time for New Zealand to join the ranks of other countries exploring drug decriminalisation.

Even the United States Justice Department, long among the hardline drug warriors, on Thursday announced it would create guidelines for states such as Washington and Colorado that have legalised cannabis.

New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell says it's time to explore a shift away from lock-'em-up criminal justice tactics.

"Our approach for the last 40 years has been too focused on trying to solve New Zealand's drug problem through a criminal justice focus and it's time now we shifted our efforts towards prevention and treatment."

The Foundation held a two day summit this week to discuss the best way to tackle New Zealand's drug problem.

It included more than 100 stakeholders from a range of groups including the Police, the Principals' Federation, drug reform and treatment agencies and even grandparents raising grandchildren.

It is the first time such a wide group of organisations and people had met, Bell said.

"We think we came up with a pretty powerful statement out of our two days, that should feed directly into the new strategy.

"We reckon that if we could get consensus from a range of groups who haven't traditionally been talking to each other, it is pretty compelling."

The key message that come from everyone was refocusing to have more of a health response to the problem.

Law Commission president Justice Grant Hammond echoed this statement in the Commission's 2011 review of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Justice Hammond said while the law must continue to impose heavy penalties on those who profit from the manufacture and sale of illicit drugs, there are compelling arguments for adopting a more holistic approach to individual drug offending, particularly when it is driven by addiction.

Those who think New Zealand does not have a drug problem should think again.

The Global Burden of Disease study, released this week, found for every 100,000 New Zealanders, approximately 640 years of good health was lost through disease, suicide and mental disorders due to illicit drug use disorders in 2010.

The results are similar to a Ministry of Health study released at the beginning of this month.

It follows the United Nations World Drug Report, released in June, which revealed New Zealand's drug use as some of the worst in the world, with up to 14.6 per cent of the population using cannabis.

Otago University public health Associate Professor Nick Wilson said the findings were not surprising.

"Illicit drugs are still a major problem for New Zealanders."

While the Government needs a new drug strategy it also needs to address its stance on alcohol, which Prof Wilson said was an even bigger problem.

"The harm from alcohol is three or four times that of illicit drugs.

"Last year the government had a chance with a new law to tighten alcohol control, to try and reduce that harm but they just tweaked the law, which from a public health point of view, was really very minimalist.

"The government is allowing quite a high level of alcohol harm because they're just not prepared to do some of these things that we know will work, like increasing alcohol tax."

Ross agreed that more was also needed to combat New Zealand's biggest problem of alcohol related issues.

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