Not our finest hour on drugs

Stephen J goes against the political flow at The Standard on the sudden rush to ban currently legal psychoactive substances, saying “there has been a moral panic based on nothing more than a few horror stories in the press“.

I don’t think this is our finest hour, to be honest. We should be aspiring to evidence based policy that aims at harm minimisation. There has been a moral panic based on nothing more than a few horror stories in the press. Great TV showing Dunne all shocked in Naenae, why can’t we see Collins in the emergency room on a Saturday night looking at the alcohol damage?

Now we’ve let ourselves get suckered into taking a position that will be difficult to unwind into a rational policy. Grrr.

He suggests the right questions were not asked or addressed.

The drugs in question are only legal under an interim regime which will expire soon. The MOH could actually have withdrawn them already and it would be very interesting to know why they have not — if the MSM weren’t busy hyperventilating that would have been a good question to ask.

Either the evidence isn’t there or MoH is falling down on the job.

The Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority is already able to ban substances deemed harmful:

40 (1) The Authority may, at any time, by notice in the Gazette, revoke an approval of a psychoactive product granted under section 37 if the Authority considers on reasonable grounds that the product poses more than a low risk of harm to individuals using the product.

The NZ Drug Foundation is also asking why this hasn’t been used – see Politicians playing silly buggers on drugs?

Stephen J continues:

Another interesting question is where all the horror cases were before the law was passed, as the substances concerned were already being sold. At least now they are in packaging with the Poison Centre hotline on it and good labelling about the contents!

The legislative framework isn’t perfect but it is adequate and better than what we had or what most jurisdictions have. Good things were coming of it. We’ve been banning these things for years, and they just get replaced with substances with no testing at all. At least in the present case there would have been a testing regime coming.

Your whole response takes for granted that there is a widespread problem that we had to respond to quickly, and that there was no answer within the present law. I don’t agree with either of these propositions.

We lack anything but anecdotal evidence in the media for evidence. We wouldn’t make policy in other areas based on a few high profile cases and I don’t see why this is different. The MoH could have withdrawn these substances if there was immediate concern (why haven’t they?) or we could have waited for the interim approvals to expire and the testing regime to kick in.

Finally, harm minimisation isn’t just about the health effects of a substance but also about whether people substitute with worse substances, or get entangled with the criminal justice system and so on.

If you want to go JUST THINK OF THE CHILDREN and let tabloid coverage dictate what you do, fine. I can’t support that. It’s PR-driven, knee-jerk policy. If it weren’t an election year we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

Moral panic plus election year panic leading to rushed legal high bans leaves me feeling wonder how well thought through this is, and makes me uneasy about what will happen.

If there are a lot of addicts out there, and if withdrawal effects are as bad as has been portrayed in the media, the sudden halt of availability may cause more problems than we currently have.

Are the police, health and rehab facilities ready to act as fast as the politicians?

Politicians playing silly buggers on drugs?

Ross Bell from NZ Drug Foundation suggests politicians are ‘playing silly buggers’ on rushing through banning law to stop sales of currently legal psychoactive substances.

He also asks why, if substances pose “more than a low risk of harm to individuals using the product”, the Regulatory Authority hasn’t removed them from sale under the current law.

Black market fears over legal high ban

An emergency law banning legal highs will lead to binge-buying, fire sales, a boosted black market and addicts withdrawing without support, warns the New Zealand Drug Foundation.

Foundation boss Ross Bell said the political parties were “playing silly buggers” with the issue because they had all agreed to stagger the implementation of the Psychoactive Substances Act, introduced in July last year, meaning a testing regime had still not been developed.

Cabinet gave the go-ahead for a law change two weeks ago. Dunne will introduce the legislation to Parliament under urgency on May 8. “It had been my intention to hold the announcement to much nearer the time to prevent panic-buying and stockpiling.”

He admitted his decision to bring the announcement forward was a political one, sparked by Labour’s planned announcement.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said the substances had been “ruining too many young lives”.

“I think we’ve all been shocked and saddened by it, and also by reports that young Kiwis have been turning to prostitution to fund the habit that these highly addictive drugs create.”

He said the Government had “fallen asleep at the wheel” over introducing a testing regime.

“Had we known 18 months down the track that no regime would yet be in place, we would have insisted back then that all drugs had to go through the testing process before they were allowed onto the market.”

But Bell said Labour had been spurred on by media coverage of the issue and had “decided to jump on the bandwagon”.

Ross from the Drug Foundation has also been active on Twitter, claiming that any substances shown to be a risk could be removed from sale (banned) under the current law.

NZ Drug Foundation ‏@nzdrug

Why not simply use the power in the existing law and immediately remove those products causing harm?

Simply stated that Authority has that power already and questioned whether law change needed.

…allow the Authority to revoke licenses. This neither requires a law change nor rely on any direction from the minister.

Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 – 40 Revocation of approval:

(1) The Authority may, at any time, by notice in the Gazette, revoke an approval of a psychoactive product granted under section 37 if the Authority considers on reasonable grounds that the product poses more than a low risk of harm to individuals using the product.

(2) If the Authority revokes an approval, the Authority—

(a) must notify the person who applied for approval of the product:

(b) may issue a recall order for the product under section 88.

(‘Authority’ means the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority)

So why the sudden rush to change the law if the current law could remove any substance deemed to be a risk?

Maybe the media and politicians should be asking that instead of playing silly buggers.