Positive drug use the 'great unmentionable'

By Hana Garrett-Walker

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

A British academic says the positives of drug use need to be spoken of freely.

Stuart Taylor, a senior lecturer in criminal justice at Liverpool Moores University in England, made the comment at a public talk at Victoria University of Wellington today about about the "great unmentionable" - the positives of illegal drug use; a topic he said was "taboo".

He hypothesised that someone who took ecstasy on the weekend might find it easier to socialise in their day-to-day life after learning how to break down social boundaries while on drugs in the weekend.

But he acknowledged he did not have any research to back this up.

"We ignore that drugs can be pleasurable or even beneficial.

"There are two sides to this debate, but only one is ever publicly touted."

He grew up in an area where drug and alcohol use was prevalent, and said he saw the positives of drugs and alcohol use, including breaking down social conventions.

In Britain there were 321,229 people aged between 15 and 64 who were "problematic drug users" but about three million people had used drugs in the past year.

"We ignore reasons why people use, we focus on addiction but that's not really what attracts people to drugs in the first place."

Government policy was failing because it did not factor in the positives of drug use and only focused on problematic drug use, he said.

"If people derive pleasure from drug use then possibly it can have a positive impact on their lives," he said.

But New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell, who sat through this afternoon's talk, said it was a "significant risk" that talking about the positives of drugs could draw more people into drug use.

"We all have pretty entrenched cannabis use in this country, and I think we really need to avoid normalising that use even more.

"Providing factual, honest information to people about the real health effects; we've still got a long way to go on that, before we even start trying to flip it around and talk about the positives."

He also had a problem with Mr Taylor's contention that discussion only focused on the problematic side of drugs.

"That might be the case in the UK - although I don't think so - but even in New Zealand we do a lot around trying to give information and advice and help to people who are recreational users and also young people who haven't yet used."

He also said that a lot of films and music spoke about the positives of drug use.

In New Zealand about 150,000 people would be classed as drug or alcohol dependant, of which about 36,000 would receive treatment.

But millions of New Zealanders drank alcohol and hundreds of thousands smoked cannabis.

"There is a big group of people who are using substances, and the use isn't problematic...but I don't think in New Zealand we're only focusing on those people who have problems...we're always providing [information for] people who use drugs who aren't problematic users."

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne would not comment on Mr Taylor's comments and police referred questions to the Government, saying they just enforced the rules.

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