NZ slipping into 'world's gutters' - drug expert

Latest international cannabis use figures prove that New Zealand is descending into "the world's gutters", says outspoken drug education expert Mike Sabin.

A recent World Health Organisation survey using data from 17 countries found cannabis use was highest in the United States, at 42.4 percent, closely followed by New Zealand at 41.9 percent.

The study also found New Zealand ranked second behind the US in terms of cocaine use, with 4.3 percent of participants reporting having used the drug, compared with 16.2 percent in the States.

Mr Sabin said the figures when combined with a high rate of methamphetamine use and alcohol consumption showed New Zealand was fast becoming one of the world's "black sheep".

"This is something we should be gravely concerned about."

Mr Sabin spent 12 years as a detective investigating clandestine drug labs in New Zealand, before establishing Methcon, the country's only specialist methamphetamine education provider.

Last month he told Parliament's law and order select committee that New Zealand's national drug policy was failing and the ramifications in communities were widespread.

"New Zealand ranking second only to the United States for cannabis use provides further evidence that our country is descending into the world's gutters," Mr Sabin said.

"The reality is, that when young people try illegal drugs for the first time, the odds are that they are trying cannabis, but of more significance the association of early cannabis use with addiction to other `harder' drugs, is something we ignore at our peril."

It was now well accepted that cannabis was addictive and that it could induce compulsive drug-seeking behaviour and psychological withdrawal symptoms, Mr Sabin said.

The latest survey found that by the age of 15, 27 percent of New Zealand youth were using cannabis.

"This is a particular hazard to young people, who have been shown to be the most vulnerable to the detrimental effects of cannabis on their health because their brains are still developing."

Mr Sabin said he believed the high rate of cannabis use in New Zealand had directly contributed to our "world's worst" status with methamphetamine.

"We can't continue to ignore the evidence. Violent crime and anti-social behaviour, child abuse, domestic violence, mental illness and drug seizure rates are all saying one thing: we need to act, and act now."

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