[Reprised from beNZylpiperazine, April 2006.]
What do Niki Lauda, Hot Lips Houlihan and, now, a growing number of clandestine lab technicians have in common?
Drug cooks with acute burns from P lab explosions are bumping other patients off surgery waiting lists and costing taxpayers millions of dollars, says the Sunday Star Times.
“A 70 per cent burn takes five months of treatment and will cost $700,000 to treat,” says Waikato Hospital clinical director of plastic surgery and burns, Chris McEwan. “Its impact on our ability to manage the rest of our patient load is absolutely significant. It may delay the treatment of other patients by a considerable length of time.”
The public health system is in enough financial trouble already, without this. So what’s the government to do? We need go no further than the government’s National Drug Policy to find the obvious answer.
The National Drug Policy aims to improve the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders by encouraging the development of strategies and programmes which prevent and reduce drug-related harm.
Harm minimisation is where it’s at. How can we reduce the number of scorched P cooks presenting at A & E departments around the country? The approach that’s been tried, and has manifestly failed, is to criminalise the manufacture of methamphetamine and to provide harsh penalties for offenders. But does a threat of a long jail sentence really provide a deterrent to those who are otherwise prepared to risk lifelong disfigurement? Nope. The retail price of methamphetamine, massively inflated under prohibition, promises huge profits to the uncaught and unscathed. And does cramming our overcrowded prisons full of amateur chemists do anything to reduce the availability of P? Nope. The retail price of methamphetamine, massively inflated under prohibition, promises huge profits to the uncaught and unscathed, and the removal of one manufacturer from the market merely provides a business opportunity for another.
So what is the answer? I suggest something along the lines of needle exchanges for opiate users, like this one in Invercargill. Better still, we could follow the “shooting gallery” model adopted in New South Wales.
At a minimum, the government should provide free protective clothing and safety apparatus (and, of course, immunity from prosecution) to those who can prove their clandestine intent and P cooking credentials. This simple measure would, I’m sure, significantly reduce the burden on the public health system of victims of P lab explosions. Of course, to be effective, such safety gear must be used properly. I envisage that the government would also fund some training in proper laboratory procedure.
Although it would certainly cost a great deal more, ideally the government should set up centres in all P-ravaged communities where P cooks can take their dangerous chemicals and drug precursors and go about their business of manufacturing methamphetamine under the watchful supervision of qualified professionals.