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SocietyMay 4, 2018

Are we really teaching kids how to do P?


Earlier this week, a concerned parent shared photos of an NZ Drug Foundation pamphlet that was being used in a high school health class. Controversy, of course, ensued. But what exactly was the pamphlet? And what were the kids doing with it?

So, I’ve been hearing about this drug pamphlet telling kids how to do P…

Well, it’s not exactly…

What do you mean “not exactly”? I saw photos of it in the Herald.

Yeah, that’s true – a parent of a Massey High School student did send the Herald photos of a couple of pages of a 20-page booklet published by the NZ Drug Foundation that, among many other things, included advice for methamphetamine users such as: “When taking meth eat something every 4 to 5 hours, drink more water than normal,” “You can’t sleep on meth. If you want to sleep later don’t use it after 3pm,” and, “If using a glass pipe, clean the inside regularly to remove butt residue which could be inhaled.”

The last “tip”, the one the Herald called the “most shocking” reads: “Meth is illegal, it’s also illegal to own a pipe. Be discrete (sic) and only keep 5 grams for personal use.”

Why five grams?

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, if you are caught with more than five grams of methamphetamine, you are presumed to be possessing the drug with intent to supplying to others, which means you will almost definitely go to prison, probably for three-to-nine years.

Presumed? I thought we’re all presumed innocent until proven guilty?

Nah, not for certain offences, and definitely not for possession of a controlled substance over a certain amount. The presumption means that the person charged has to prove that they’re not intending to use the drugs to supply to others and that is, typically, so hard that it’s easiest just to think about it as if you’ve got five grams or more, under the law, you’re gonna be supplying it to others (which includes just giving it to your friends) it at some point. (While you’re here: it’s best not to keep more than an ounce of marijuana or, I dunno, a sheet of acid just lying around.)

So the booklet is telling kids how to evade the law?

I guess the difference between evading the law and simply not ruining one’s life (or ruining one’s life a little less, depending on the circumstances) is in the eye of the beholder. But you bring up an important point that should be addressed.

You say “kids”. The booklet, titled MethHelp, isn’t actually for “kids”. It has been published by the NZ Drug Foundation since 2010 to help methamphetamine users (who, as of 2015, make up a little less than 1% of the population) make safer choices in their drug use.

How did it end up in a classroom?

Massey High School requested some copies to use as one resource in a Level 3 Health class.

So those are kids though, right?

Yeah, sure. They’re 17- and 18-year-olds who are enrolled in an opt-in health class. This isn’t the mandatory health class where you put a condom on a banana and giggle at unsexy sex cartoons (do they still do that?) This is a class of about 30 students (out of about 1750 students in the school), most of which are taking the class because they are thinking of entering the medical/health industries.

Why do they need a booklet about how to take P and still be able to sleep at night?

The booklet was one of many resources the students had access to for research into a “New Zealand health issue” for an NCEA internal assessment project. The school assigned the topic of methamphetamine use by 15-24-year-olds.

Also, it’s important to note the booklet focuses on the negative impacts of methamphetamine use on the individual, relationships and society and includes advice on how to stop dependency and use. Read it here and see for yourself.

I guess that sounds reasonable. But shouldn’t we just be telling kids not to take drugs?

Well, we are. Or, I mean, schools are. Massey High School has been clear that it “does not condone illegal drug use, drugs on the school campus, nor does it teach its pupils how to use drug instruments”.

But still, you can’t just tell people not to do something. That doesn’t work. Abstinence-only education just doesn’t work. We’ve been telling kids not to take drugs for decades, yet 44% of New Zealanders will still try illegal drugs. (It doesn’t work for sex education either BTW.) And if you’re really worried about drug use, get worried about alcohol and tobacco. According to the NZ Drug Foundation, around 20% of the population drinks “hazardously” and 9% of physical health loss in New Zealand is attributed to tobacco use.

So what should we do about this all?

Legalise it! Seriously. Legalise all drugs. Carefully and deliberately. Treat drugs as a public health issue. Increase education and public health resources for testing and treatment. Begin the process of righting the wrongs of generations of discriminatory approaches to drug-related law enforcement. Recognise that people take drugs for all sorts of reasons (out of boredom, desperation, dependency, curiosity or, sometimes, just for fun) and we should allow people take drugs safely and without the intervention of criminal syndicates.

That’s NEVER going to happen!

Maybe not. But can we at least let people test their drugs (and not just at music festivals)? Fentanyl killed Prince and it’s killing New Zealanders too. You need very little of the drug to get people fucked up (100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin, according to the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency) so it’s more easily smuggled into the country than most drugs so is cheaper and commonly cut into all sorts of drugs. People are going to take drugs whether you like it or not. Let them know exactly what they’re taking.

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