I saw Johnny the other day again, I wrote about him in this post, abedandadresser. He was on the road to nowhere at the time, well he found somewhereHis quest invariably took him to family, some distance way from where I live. He spoke of his frustration of living with his grandchildren, “disrespectful lying little sxxxs” he described them as, no manners and no discipline. He moved on from there into a council flat and now once again he is back in my area. Johnny wants to work however he also needs to drink. He flies under the radar doing part time work under the table at places where he can maintain his dependence on alcohol, drinking a can of beer or so every hour, just enough to stop the craving, not quite enough to be drunk. He is probably severely liver damaged and is unlikely to make old bones at all.
I mused about talking to him and asking him if he had considered his addiction to alcohol as a problem and whether he wanted to change it or not. I haven’t found the time yet (a poor excuse) nor the inclination (perhaps a poorer excuse). It is not really my business…or is it? When does addiction become our business? Surely it is a societal concern, in 2004-2005 the total amount of people who used Alcohol and other drugs in a harmful way was 667,000. The estimated cost to society in direct and non direct costs were 652 million dollars if you divide that by the total amount of people who use alcohol and other drugs in a harmful way that is about 1000.00 per person, or 148.00 per head of population. We know that not every harmful drug user costs money in an individual year or perhaps even in a life time.
The point is that the amount of money involved is huge somewhere around two thirds of the total amount spent on health in 2005. Imagine if we could lower this cost by half… that is a lot of extra money to put into health, education whatever. It would be naive to suggest that we can eliminate drug and alcohol addiction however I am sure that we can do better. Improved treatment plans and programmes is one of those areas where we could make a difference. if you talk to providers they will tell you they are inundated with people seeking help and their funding is capped, limited and inadequate. treatment models are subject to the same neo-liberal market forces that afflict our country throughout all the public system. Treatment is however only one way of dealing with the problem. A long term prevention approach needs to be taken as well.
There is a lot of talk about cannabis being a gateway drug, whilst no doubt it is I suggest that there is a significant gateway drug that is legal and sold in New Zealand, the usage of this drug has no safe limits at all and its social and health costs are staggering, that drug is tobacco. I wonder if there were a significant lowering of young people starting to smoke tobacco would we see a corresponding drop come through the system of problem drug and alcohol use? It is worth considering and perhaps the data is there to support my thesis but just needs to be mined to be obtained.
Australia has taken a strong stance on this with the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco. This has been met with strong opposition from tobacco manufacturers, Australia’s cost in defending the investor state court action is over 50 million dollars. This is the price a sovereign state has had to pay because of a free trade agreement, one of the things that TPPA opponents point to as a possible consequence of signing the current proposal, whilst Australia has won the first round it still faces action from 4 other World trade member countries because of its stand. Will we in new Zealand face the same issue if we introduce plain packaging?
This is a once over lightly cover of this issue that barely scratches the surface and I have wondered from the start significantly, the question is should I talk to Johnny about his alcohol abuse, well I think I should, watch this space for another update, it wont be today or tomorrow, but hopefully it will be this month. I will follow this blog with a few more thoughts on drug addiction. If you have some ideas please don’t hesitate to add your thoughts as a comment or perhaps consider writing a guest blog for me.