Overcoming this country's appalling penchant for indulging in illicit drugs won't be easy, but it's not impossible. What we need is a shift in attitudes, a refusal to accept that this is the best we can expect, that it's probably going to get worse and we can't do anything about it.

The Government obviously can't stop it. Harsher penalties alone aren't going to do it. Deciding that drug addiction is a health issue rather than a criminal offence would be a start, but at the end of the day we need to fix this ourselves.

It doesn't help, however, when the Drug Foundation surrenders, as it appears to have done when it defends the Ministry of Health's guidelines for using methamphetamine 'discreetly'.

There is no way to use methamphetamine discreetly, or so we are told. It's not like other drugs. It is not one to be dabbled with, but is so extraordinarily addictive, and damaging, that the only way for those who use it is down. The ministry and the Drug Foundation would seemingly now have us believe otherwise.


It is alarming that a Ministry of Health booklet that, in part, offers advice on how to use methamphetamine with minimal harm, found its way into the hands of a Year 13 class at an Auckland high school, but the greater tragedy is that it was ever printed.

The Drug Foundation says it was printed as a guide for those who were already using the drug, but whatever the intention it represents abject surrender. Acceptance that meth is here to stay, and there is nothing we can do about it.

'There is no way to use methamphetamine discreetly, or so we are told. It's not like other drugs. It is not one to be dabbled with, but is so extraordinarily addictive, and damaging, that the only way for those who use it is down. The ministry and the Drug Foundation would seemingly now have us believe otherwise.'

The foundation's defence of the advice is disingenuous. Surely it accepts that this is not a drug that can be used recreationally; when it comes to meth, it's a matter of in or out.

Either you don't use it, or you expose yourself to the inevitability of addiction, horrific physical effects and the enormously damaging impact it has on the user, their dependents and society as a whole.

Whatever one's view of teaching another generation of potential victims of the dangers of using this drug, the ministry goes too far with its 'keeping well' tips for users.

Teaching students about the pernicious effects of meth is one thing; telling them to be sure to eat regularly and drink more water than normal, to regularly clean the pipe they might use to ingest it and not to use it after 3pm if they want a good night's sleep is quite another.

Most egregiously, the reader is warned that it is illegal to possess meth, or paraphernalia used to ingest it, and is advised to keep no more than half a gram. That, presumably, will spare them from being charged with possession for supply.

Massey High School said that advice had been taken out of context.


No offence, but they all say that. These tips might be just a small part of the information provided by the ministry, and a fraction of what was put before the students, but how advice aimed at enabling people to avoid being charged with drug dealing can be taken out of context takes some understanding.

The official explanation is that the tips are aimed at people who are already using the drug, and who need help to break their addiction. Pull the other one.

The school's claim that the material can be found online, and is part of a Ministry of Health-funded Drug Foundation programme, doesn't wash either.

These tips give the very strong impression that meth can be used 'discreetly', which presumably means it can be part of a normal, functional life. All the evidence suggests otherwise.

The school was probably right to doubt that the 22 students in this Year 13 class were in danger of becoming meth fiends on the strength of two pages in a booklet explaining the nature of the drug and the dangers of using it.

It was also no doubt right when it said that the current high school generation includes some exceptional teenagers who can confidently be expected to do great things. Does that confer immunity to drug addiction? No it does not. More to the point, the ministry, and the Drug Foundation, appear to be conceding defeat.

This is not unprecedented. We as a society gave up the fight against cannabis years ago, despite evidence that the drug used today is many times more powerful, and damaging, than was once used, supposedly without significant consequences.

Cultivating and selling the drug are still offences, but those who wish to use it are now effectively free to do so with impunity.

The same goes for the reduction in age at which sexual activity begins. Years ago the focus shifted away from trying to protect children from the potential dangers, physical and emotional, of early sexual activity and towards encouraging them to do so 'safely'.

We now live in a society where children are sexualised at a very early age, even if they are not indulging in sexual activity, to the point where we are told that a whole generation is losing the ability to form 'normal', healthy relationships.

That battle, and the battle against cannabis (which, despite its defenders' assertions, is a far from harmless drug), has been lost. And now the battle against methamphetamine seems to be going the same way.

For a realistic, and eminently more rational view, we should be listening to Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president Pat Newman, who said last week that he suspected meth was having a negative impact on at least one child in every classroom in Northland.

They might not be using it themselves, but they were suffering from the addiction of others, even if 'only' to the extent that their most basic needs, like being fed, were not being met.

That, Mr Newman said, was having all manner of ramifications, including developmental delay and "all sorts of behaviours".

Mr Newman has long been calling for greater government investment in helping these kids, those who try to teach them and those with whom they share a classroom, to very little avail, but surely the greater responsibility is to spare these children from the damage they are suffering.

The fact that the Ministry of Health is teaching people how to use meth 'discreetly', and how to ameliorate the consequences should the police come calling, suggests that there is no hope of that.

Mr Newman can be forgiven for despairing of effective government intervention, even in the form of an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, and is right on the money when he says the community needs to do something about it. Schools can't fix it, and nor can other government agencies. Mr Newman believes the community can, and must.

And he's right.

That doesn't mean marching through the streets, or threatening those who use (and more importantly manufacture or sell) the drug with summary justice. It means nothing more dramatic than refusing to accept that meth is here to stay, and exposing those who are responsible to the authorities who have the ability to do something about it.

It means not turning a blind eye, like we have to so many other issues that have been allowed to establish themselves as 'normal'. It means offering help to the addicted, dealing much more harshly than we have so far with those who feed the addicts (and often hook them in the first place), and putting the white flag back in the cupboard.