17 April 2014
There have been a number of harrowing cases presented this week about the impact of psychoactive substances on vulnerable young people.
At one level, the tales are deeply disturbing. It is awful to see anyone affected in the way some of these young people appear to have been. However, at another level, they are a little hard to believe at face value. The only psychoactive substances currently able to be sold legally are those that were on sale at least three months before the Act was passed, and which had hitherto not been known to be the cause of any problems. It is a little hard to see how they can suddenly have become so damaging, just in recent months. A far more likely explanation is that the people in question have been using a combination of legal and illegal drugs, or outlawed drugs obtained on the black market.
But be all that as it may, the fact remains that despite the R18 restriction on sales and possession there are still young people being adversely affected. It makes me all the more angry at the tardy and downright irresponsible response of our Mayors and Councils who, nine months after the passage of the Act, have done so little to implement the responsibilities they begged Parliament to give them. Nor has the psychoactive substances industry shown any interest in anything other than their bottom line.
At the same time, this emerging situation has led me to look again at what is available on the market at present, and the impact it is having. For that reason, I asked the Ministry of Health some weeks ago to check with doctors and mental health facilities around the country the impact the substances presently available were having. It is also why the manufacturers of those products are presently being audited on their compliance with the manufacturing code of practice that was released earlier in the year. I am reviewing the situation on literally a daily basis, including whether additional legislative measures are required.
Let there be no doubt that as far as I am concerned there is nothing positive about psychoactive substances. The issue is simply how to deal with what Time magazine called this week “the most complicated drug problem in the world right now … spreading to eager buyers everywhere at an unprecedented speed.” Because banning these products does not work (Time points out that “because the newest compounds don’t yet appear on state and federal lists of illegal drugs, the sellers can market them as legal. As soon as authorities add a compound to the prohibited list, the chemists tweak the formula—ever so slightly—to make a new substance that purports to be legal”) our responsibility must be to ensure the environment in which they are used in New Zealand reduces the prospect of harm to the greatest extent possible. That should not be interpreted as any form of approval for these pernicious products, as some ignorantly suggest. It is, rather, about implementing control policies that are realistic, responsible and ultimately effective. That is all that drives me day in and day out on this issue.