Middle-aged delinquents

23:39, Apr 14 2014

Editorial: One of the better anti-smoking posters shows a middle-aged couple on a night out, in tragically garish clothes, she in heavy makeup, he with open- necked shirt, each of them brandishing fags.

The caption asks: "If it's so cool how come your parents are doing it?"

Apparently we might need to dust off, and broaden, that particular campaign.

Fairfax Media's involvement in a global drugs survey has provided information on the drug habits of 5731 New Zealanders - and they're hardly kids, given that the mean age is 35.

The findings provide some unsettling insights into the extent of alcohol and drug usage in the middle-class middle- age community.

Like 8 per cent of respondents admitting blacking out while drinking at least monthly - the classic drunken stupor extending well past the years of irresponsible youth. And more than half of our heavy drinkers seem to be under the illusion that they're consuming only average, or even under- average, quantities.


As for illegal drugs, the kids-and-crims stereotype is unsurprisingly a far narrower focus than the reality. Half the respondents had used illegal drugs during the past year.

Cannabis users will no doubt seize upon the fact that the survey founder and British addiction specialist Adam Winstock contrasts our (oftentimes undeniably screwed-up) attitudes towards alcohol with the observation that Kiwis do appear to be using cannabis responsibly.

And this at a time when concern about the damage being done by legal highs is lending a rather spurious sense of authenticity to the use of cannabis itself.

Yes, well, about that. The survey finding sits uneasily alongside a great deal of research, one recent example comes from just up the road and the massive programme of longitudinal studies being done through Otago University.

This is heavyweight research in its own right and it has found an eight-point decline in the IQs of some early cannabis users. What's more, that decline isn't fully recoverable when the usage stops.

Cannabis, in other words, is emerging as particularly damaging during adolescence, a sensitive period in brain development. The policy upshot, obviously, is that even if you can't prevent young people from using the drug, there's a case for delaying the experimentation as much as possible.

The Dunedin study also found that about a quarter of the population have a gene combination that, if they become heavy cannabis users, has them up to 11 times more likely to develop schizophrenia; a condition not generally celebrated for its mellow buzz.

However, another part of the global drug survey that really should command attention is the increasingly harmful influence of prescription painkillers, especially the opiate oxycodone.

Not in itself an illicit drug, oxycodone was introduced to New Zealand in 2005, intended for moderate-to-severe pain relief when a patient could not tolerate morphine. It is twice as potent, twice as expensive, and clearly has greater potential with recreational drug users. Estimates last year were that between 3 per cent and 11 per cent of New Zealand users were addicted. A problem deserving far more attention than it's been getting.


The Southland Times