Benefits of drug use ignored, says lecturer

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:00 04/12/2012
Stuart Taylor
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ
BALANCE NEEDED: Lecturer Stuart Taylor wants more research into both the positives – and negatives – of illegal substance use.

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One of the great unmentionable subjects will get an airing at a Victoria University lecture in Wellington today - the positives of drug use.

Stuart Taylor, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University in England, says current government drug policy around the world has failed by not considering why people use illegal substances.

"A certain group in society have a desire for hedonism, for release purposes, to get away from the nine-to-five mundaneness of our lives."

Mr Taylor, 34, spoke on the subject at an Auckland criminology conference last week.

He grew up in a pub, and said he saw the benefits that alcohol and illegal drugs brought to people's lives, such as the breaking down of rigid social conventions, alongside the negatives.

Yet as he studied criminal justice at university, he found drug policy and its media coverage to be completely informed by the negatives, with no reference to any positives.

"The problem is, anyone who comes out and says this is putting their head on a chopping block.

"We focus on addiction and negativity. We don't look at alien concepts like, do those who use drugs develop skills from their drug life that they take into their normal lives?"

His argument for a balanced look was sometimes characterised as glamourising drug use, but if the goal was to protect people, a holistic view would also catch problems that traditional policy did not.

He said people who did not fit the pattern of "dirty and feral" drug users were missed by current research, including those who had problems but had the money to disguise their habit. "We still don't really know the negative impacts of most recreational drugs.

"It would be interesting to see if a group of clubbers who returned to work on a Monday morning who'd taken ecstasy were any less productive than people who'd been out binge drinking on a Saturday night . . . [there has been] no research undertaken in this."

More widespread research could mean those advocating for prohibition could be faced with some uncomfortable results, such as if the anecdotal evidence that most drug use resulted in little or no harm was confirmed by scientific study. If that was really the case, it should be made known, he said.

"We live in a society where we should discuss the truth, and the reality of the situation."

THE DETAILS

The lecture will be in Room 305, Murphy Building, Victoria University, Kelburn Pde, at midday today.

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- The Dominion Post

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