McQuillan on alcohol and drugs

Laura McQuillian writes at Stuff:

We, my fellow New Zealanders, are scientifically proven to be a nation of pissheads. 

Getting drunk is our true national sport: whoever gets there the fastest, without falling down, wins.

We’re holding our own against the rest of the world: last year’s Global Drug Survey found while Irish blokes led the boozing charge, followed by the Poles, Kiwi men rolled into third place. We’re also third when it comes to binge-drinking: 2.8 per cent of us admit drinking too much nearly every day of the week.

The survey found one in three of us wants to drink less; for one in five of us, a friend, family member or colleague has suggested cutting back.

Only problem is the Global Drug Survey is not scientific. It is a self-selecting survey and not representative of the population. A better survey is the National Health Survey done by Ministry of Health. It shows 20% of over 15s are non-drinkers, 62% are “normal” drinkers and 18% hazardous drinkers.

Everything about our drinking is embarrassing, from the regrettable texts and drunken pashes, to the pools of vomit along Courtenay Place and cancelled brunches on Sunday mornings.

I’m tempted to quip that’s just Laura’s last big weekend out 🙂

For some that is how they drink, and in my distant past some of that would apply to me. But that is not the majority of New Zealanders.

In my university days, a group of friends would organise an annual “Ranfurly Shield” event. The challenge: dress in rugby garb and drink a dozen 440ml cans of Ranfurly – arguably New Zealand’s worst beer. The first to finish won a decorated shield. It was a bit of student fun – certainly not a healthy pastime, but all survived unscathed.

Now, the whole country can take part in an event that’s nearly twice as bad: “National Crate Day”. For the fifth year running, a station and a booze giant are encouraging Kiwis young and old to drink themselves silly (or potentially to death) on a dozen 745ml bottles – or nine litres – of beer in one day.

Over the weekend, while “celebrating” National Crate Day, a 20-year-old in Nelson fell from the back of a ute, hit his head on the road, and ended up on life support with a brain bleed.

The organisers – The Rock, with support from Super Liquor – ask us to consume 30 standard drinks in a matter of hours, two to three times what’s safe to drink in an entire week.

I agree events like National Crate Day are dangerous and should not be promoted. In fact Super Liquor is probably breaking the law if they are promoting it.

When it comes to drugs, on the other hand, we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves in for. Our ecstasy could just kill us, or we might trip for days from new synthetic drugs like N-bomb.

Zero-tolerance hasn’t stopped the drugs a-flowing: 63.5 per cent of Kiwi survey respondents had smoked pot in their lifetime, and a rather surprising 14.7 per cent had used cocaine. 

I highly doubt 15% have used cocaine. This is the problem of a self-selecting online survey. A 2008 scientific survey found 0.6% of adults have used cocaine.

Legalising drugs could help keep users safe: with regulated sales and education on the risks, users wouldn’t have to buy from a black market of potentially-lethal pills and potions, the government would be able to control who’s selling and help encourage safe use.

Start with decriminalising cannabis. At the same time, teach the tens – perhaps hundreds – of thousands of users how they can continue do so, with full knowledge of what it’s doing to their health, and how they can minimise the risks.

I agree that decriminalising would be a good thing to do, and allow the focus to go on health and harm prevention.

I have no inclination to use drugs myself – I treasure my brain cells too greatly – but I’d rather those who do use alive and high than preventably dead.

Pushing the issue of drug use under the carpet while letting us drink ourselves to death simply makes no sense.

Again I agree – ideally all drugs would come under the same framework of a health based approach.

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