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?
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.
This is because meth is a particularly nasty, fast and powerful way to become addicted, and there is no way to reset the brain back to the way it was prior to addiction (for good reason meth users call it "getting fried" and others talk about "death by meth").
I have met a lot of meth addicted people and none of them intended to become addicted and wreck their lives and the lives of others. It just happened. And despite what some may say, the idea of being a "well" meth user is nonsense. Many have been misled by this falsehood and seriously harmed.
Meth is illegal for a reason and anyone who advocates breaking the law in a purportedly safe way is guilty of encouraging criminal activity and causing harm.
* John Moir has worked in prison and the community helping people overcome substance addictions. He has a postgraduate certificate in health sciences from the University of Auckland as well as a degree in psychology, a diploma in mental health and an advanced diploma in logotherapy.