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The War on Drugs only has losers.

January 18, 2021

It seems each generation of teenagers finds new ways of harming themselves in the quest for more holiday thrills and instant pleasure. They are matched with a new generation of those who take their money for potentially lethal substances with no regard for the harm they cause.

Adolescents have always taken risks and pushed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. They also push the boundaries of adventure, knowledge and achievement with equal enthusiasm but is it only luck which determines if they will grow into knowledgeable high achievers or tragic statistics of misadventure or condemned to a wasted life of addiction or early death from dug use? 

Many past generations of parents have watched in helpless distress as their children changed from healthy, ambitious youngsters to unemployable zombies, visited them in jail or buried them as a result of illegal drug use. Too many young people today don’t even have parents who worry about them at all due to their own drug habits.

Have those past generations of parents, teachers and law enforcers missed something vital in encouraging the search for new horizons by young people without taking lethal risks? Is that even possible? 

We can shrug the problem of illegal drugs off as an inevitable and unavoidable price for living in the modern world as we seem to do with the annual road toll or we can do something about it. But what can we do which has not already been tried before? 

There have been many attempts to get to grips with the problem. For a while we had the rather pointless debate about whether the illegal drug trade was a law-and-order issue or a health issue but nothing really came from it. To those dealing every day with the tragic consequences of illegal drugs it is both. One causes the other, they are equally serious, becoming more so each year and they need very different solutions. 

We closed the loophole in the law and effectively outlawed the sale of psychoactive substances, usually in the form of so-called party pills, a few years ago but the illegal trade has continued.    

The latest threat to the health and lives of young, and not so young, thrill seekers is the new generation of party pills known as MDMA. Unlike the early illegal mind-bending substances like LSD, and potentially lethal methamphetamine, which are significantly expensive these latest pills are relatively cheap, easy to produce and readily available. To make matter worse some of these pills  contain eutylone which gives the same high as MDMA but soon fades leading people to take more, thinking it’s weak MDMA. Overdosing then becomes a real possibility

Those who manufacture these pills know that eutylone can cause anxiety, headaches, paranoia, vomiting, convulsions and even death. How inhumanely callous can anyone be to make and sell these toxic concoctions to vulnerable, naïve kids? 

Already this summer, as the belated music festival gets under way, a number of young people have been hospitalised after taking what they thought were MDMA pills they were able to buy for about $30 at these large public gatherings. We have yet to have a fatality but is that simply a matter of luck and is it a matter of time before we do?

There are short term and long-term potential solutions on several fronts which need careful but urgent consideration as they will not be cheap or easy to apply. In the short-term we need effective and much more severe punishment for those convicted of making and selling these illegal substances. They engage in what can be seen by families who have lost members to drugs as little more than murder by instalment.  Although not as visible or dramatic as the mass murder of 51 innocent people at two mosques in Christchurch in 2018 are they really all that different? Also in the short term we need massive new investment in rehabilitation services and facilities as well as targeted education programmes for adults.   

In the long term we need to rethink how we teach young people about the dangers of illegal drugs. In that educators will be up against an almost constant barrage of misinformation and soft sell campaigns on social media about drugs. That education needs to start in primary schools well before the onset of adolescence when young people begin to be less influenced by parents and more influenced by their peers.

In secondary schools that programme needs to be reinforced with much improved education on parenting skills. Kids with inadequate parents have every chance of becoming bad parents themselves. Finally, and perhaps most difficult, we need government regulation of the various social media platforms as self-regulation has never worked and never will. None of it will be easy. If it was it would have been done by now.