‘P’. It’s amazing one letter can strike so much fear into our communities. But it does and rightly so. ‘P’ (pure methamphetamine to anyone who doesn’t read the Herald) is a nasty nasty substance. It is incredibly addictive, utterly destructive to individuals, their families, their communities and fuels criminal activity among users and suppliers alike. It’s evil.
The Herald and John Key have noticed the fear ‘P’ arouses. Hence their “War-on-P” campaign culminating in Key’s announcement through the Herald on Tuesday that he is considering banning pseudoephedrine. I expect that wasn’t quite the first thing the scientific community was expecting Professor Peter Gluckman to get to work on but, hey, that’s what Key wants.
What I found bizarre about Key going after pseudoephedrine – a substance that brings relief to hundreds of thousands of responsible users – is that just a month ago Key was advocating the exact opposite position with regard to alcohol.
His exact words on Newstalk ZB were: “I think you’ve got to be very careful you don’t get in a situation where you simply whack up the price of booze and everybody gets affected because some, particularly young people, are going out on benders”.
So it’s OK to penalise pseudoephedrine users but not OK to penalise alcohol users. I don’t get it. Both are legal. Both are controlled to some extent. Both have benefits and dangers. Actually, if you think about it, pseudoephedrine helps boost productivity by helping people suffering a cold or the flu get back to work sooner. I don’t think anyone could claim alcohol makes you more productive.
I won’t try to argue that the physical and psychological effects of P as a substance aren’t far greater than those of alcohol. But as far as their respective impacts on our community and economy go, the two aren’t even in the same ballpark. All substance abuse in New Zealand is estimated to cost $6.3 billion each year. Over $5 billion of that is due to alcohol abuse. That leaves just $1.3 billion to all other substances – cannabis, amphetamines (including P), opiates, party pills, the lot.
The prevalence of amphetamine use in New Zealand peaked in 2001 at 5% of the population, but has since decreased to 3.4%. Crystalline methamphetamine peaked at the same time at 0.9%, but has remained relatively stable ever since.
Alcohol causes far more destruction, crime, work absenteeism and family violence than all other drugs. Yet for some reason it’s OK for politicians to go after P but we get incredibly uncomfortable when it comes to alcohol. Why?
The only reason I can think of is that there is no safe level of P use. But then there is no safe level of tobacco use either, and John Key’s in no rush to take the next logical step in tobacco control by banning powerwalls.
I like a drink as much as most people. But I’m prepared to admit that with the freedom to enjoy alcohol comes the responsibility to face up to its less palatable effects. When will the debate about drug and alcohol control start to sensibly reflect the real level of damage substance abuse does to our community and when will Key stop giving mixed messages?