Study to examine kava’s link to drink-driving
8 December 2015
Former police officer and soldier Dr Apo Aporosa has received a 2015 Pacific postdoctoral fellowship worth $230,000 from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) to examine the effects of the popular Pacific Island drink, kava, on driver ability and road safety.
Kava is a traditional Pacific Island drink with great cultural significance that produces soporific relaxant effects similar to sedative drugs. This study – the first of its kind – will use cognitive and driving simulation tests to access driver fitness immediately following high kava use.
Dr Aporosa, a research associate of Fijian descent at the University of Waikato, is an expert in the area of kava and health, and has advised the NZ Police on several kava drink-driving cases. He says it is estimated there are more than 20,000 kava users on an average Friday or Saturday night in New Zealand. Most of these users are consuming kava at volumes 32 times greater than pharmacologically recommended doses, with many then driving home.
“Injury resulting from road traffic accidents is the leading cause of hospitalisation for Pasifika men and women living in New Zealand, with anecdotal reports suggesting that kava contributes to this,” says Dr Aporosa.
Dr Aporosa says the two-year fellowship, which he is planning to start in early March 2016, is a combined Anthropology Programme/School of Psychology partnership. He will work with Psychology’s Traffic and Road Safety (TARS) research group.
On being awarded the fellowship, Dr Aporosa said he felt as if he’d won Lotto.
“HRC advised me over a week ago and still feel as excited now as I did when first told. I have been applying for funds for this particular research for the past five years and honestly never thought it would happen.”
He also believes that kava use in New Zealand is underestimated, with increasing numbers of non-Pasifika peoples consuming the substance.
“This study resulted out of my own history of kava use as a Fijian, my experience of drug-drivers and motor vehicle accidents as a police officer, and more recently consultation by the NZ Police Prosecution Section as part of their prosecution of kava drivers. Until quantitative assessments of kava drivers had been completed, no authoritative comments can be made on kava’s effect on driving.”
HRC Chief Executive Professor Kath McPherson says Dr Aporosa’s research, which will concentrate on the impairment effects of kava on driving ability in Hamilton and South Auckland, has great potential to improve health outcomes for Pasifika peoples and other road users, and reduce the social cost of drug-driving related accidents, estimated to be $6.5 million annually.