John Moir: School meth lessons do not reduce drug harm

NZ Herald 11 May 2018
Family First Comment: Excellent commentary on the Drug Foundation’s flawed drug approach…
“The harm reduction approach is intended to target current drug users, that is, the part of the population who will continue using drugs anyway and where the aim is to reduce harm. Ross Bell of the NZ Drug Foundation publicly conceded this, but inexplicably remained wedded to the idea that school children who are not meth users should also be targeted for meth harm reduction….. On the other hand, Dale Kirk, a former policeman and current drug awareness educator, doesn’t need a guinea pig experiment to tell him the gambling odds, and he publicly expressed concern about the school’s teaching. And based on my experience as an addiction practitioner, I agree with him.”
And so do most parents!

Recently Massey High School taught its students how to be “well” when using meth, and since then a battle of words has ensued where both sides have stated their strong opinions as facts but no one has actually cited any evidence.

Many of the students’ parents were outraged that the school encouraged its students to engage in harmful and criminal meth use by teaching and normalising it. On the other side, the school argued it acted appropriately, and the NZ Drug Foundation proclaimed the education was appropriate because it reduces or minimises harm and suggested that anyone who didn’t agree was an ignoramus living under a rock who didn’t know what was happening in New Zealand.

So, who is correct, the professional Drug Foundation and school personnel or the common sense parents?

One fact worth understanding is that the harm minimisation policy and related harm reduction strategies came to fame in the 1980s when it was introduced in Australia, primarily to reduce the risk of intravenous drug users being infected by the then newly arrived and dreaded HIV. One strategy was to turn a blind eye to the illegality of drug use and provide free clean needles to users and encourage users to not share them, thereby reducing the risk of blood-borne infection.

Such strategies did reduce harm and helped addicted people to stay alive longer so that one day perhaps they would start the hard journey of getting off drugs.

In their book, Drug Use In Australia: Preventing Harm, Hamilton, King and Ritter stressed this harm reduction approach was the “least worst option”, which begs this question, why would anyone advocate the least-worst-drug-using option for school kids who are not using drugs?

A key point is that the harm reduction approach is intended to target current drug users, that is, the part of the population who will continue using drugs anyway and where the aim is to reduce harm. Ross Bell of the NZ Drug Foundation publicly conceded this, but inexplicably remained wedded to the idea that school children who are not meth users should also be targeted for meth harm reduction.

If meth harm reduction is only appropriate for meth users, it follows that the school misapplied the approach when it taught the “least worst” way to use meth and avoid prosecution, unless of course it believed that all their students are meth users and law breakers.

I am unaware of any scientific research that shows it is helpful and not harmful to teach school children how to best use meth and avoid prosecution for it. And though Mr Bell had ample opportunity to cite such evidence, to my knowledge he has not.

If neither he nor Massey High School know if their teaching will cause harm, then aren’t they really guilty of gambling with the school children’s lives? Or is this an unplanned experiment where the children are guinea pigs?
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