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There are very real problems in New Zealand caused by the availability of methamphetamine. There is unmet need for treatment, a growing number of people convicted of offences for use and possession, and much concern arising from communities throughout the country.
While efforts are underway to control drug supply, it is also very important to ensure anyone using methamphetamine can get the help they need. And that friends, family members, whānau, colleagues and others can support people to make healthier decisions.
Young New Zealanders are growing up in a world where this and other drugs exist. All young New Zealanders have a choice about whether to use or not, at some stage in their life. Some will make the decision to use, and a few will come to harm.
The Drug Foundation's role is to support people to make good decisions about their health, and futures. We do this based on the best available evidence and with input from other experts in the public health field.
Schools play a vital role in helping young people navigate many significant life choices. It is a responsible thing for schools to provide opportunities for students to learn in structured ways about drugs. When schools do this, there is generally a lack of tools and support available to do this well. It’s something we are working to see addressed.
The criticism levelled at Massey High School for using MethHelp resources in a Year 13 Level 3 health course is misplaced. The resources were clearly part of a wider set of course materials. Bringing a critical perspective to a booklet produced for adults who are struggling with their existing drug use makes sense in a teaching setting. It would seem that elements of this carefully planned course have been seen out of context.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that some New Zealanders choose to use drugs. They do this despite the health risks and legal consequences. The Drug Foundation accepts that use occurs on a continuum from no use through to dependent use. We advise that the safest use is no use, but we also accept that people will make their own choices. It is our role as public health professionals to provide resources and support so that people do not come to harm as a result of that choice.
This makes some people uncomfortable. It can be challenging to be confronted with information about safer use. However, we stand by resources designed to meet the needs of people whose lives are negatively affected by drug dependency. This is a well-founded, practical response.
More than 20,000 copies of the 20 page MethHelp booklet were distributed around New Zealand in the past 12 months. The booklet focusses on how someone can cut down or stop using methamphetamine. The small number of safer use tips are included to support those struggling to control their use.
The debate on the appropriateness of MethHelp resources being used in the classroom is a welcome one. As an organisation, we are very open about to talking about why we do things the way we do, and most importantly, how we can work together to ensure an Aotearoa free from drug harm.