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Budget '22 chance to move away from failed approaches to drugs

12 May 2022
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The NZ Drug Foundation says Budget 2022 is a chance for the Government to fund effective health-based approaches to drugs, instead of continuing with failed policies from the past.

The Foundation estimates that the Government currently spends more than four times as much on drug law enforcement as it does on treatment and other health-based approaches.

Drug Foundation Executive Director Sarah Helm describes this as appalling when there are innovative, cost-effective, off-the-shelf solutions in Aotearoa waiting for funds.

“It is time to shift the balance away from spending millions on criminal justice and law enforcement that disproportionately harms Māori, towards proven and cost-effective initiatives that reduce harm for people who use drugs,” Helm says.

“At present, we wait until someone ends up needing hospital-level care or in prison before we offer them help. This is both inhumane and a poor use of government money.”

One example of a ground-breaking initiative that works is Te Ara Oranga, a Northland-based programme that works to reduce demand for meth by providing health and social support. A recent evaluation of the initiative demonstrated its effectiveness at reducing criminal offending of those referred by 34%.

“Te Ara Oranga demonstrates a Portugal-style health-based approach to methamphetamine use can be successful in New Zealand.”

“The cost of rolling out Te Ara Oranga across the country is estimated at $40-45 million per annum but would have an impressive return of investment of at least $100-150m per annum,” Helm says.

“We also have a highly effective, world-leading early warning system, High Alert, to detect and inform New Zealanders when more dangerous drugs are circulating in the community. It has no secure funding at the moment.”

“There is a proliferation of new psychoactive substances constantly arriving in the country. The National Drug Intelligence Bureau leads High Alert, and alongside partners like us, detects and issues notifications to the public about evidence and outbreaks of drug harm. We are hugely grateful for their work, which has undoubtedly saved lives. We hope the Government continues this work and secures their funding in Budget 2022.”

“Continuing with a health-based approach to drug harm, we’d like to see extra investment in things like drug checking, health check-ups and additional funding to urgently train workers for the addiction and harm reduction workforce.”

Helm says an example of the Government wasting money on ineffective approaches to drug harm is random roadside drug testing, due to begin in 2023. She says the tests are highly inaccurate and only look for the presence of a substance in someone’s system, not impairment.

“While we don’t want unsafe drivers on our road, the Drug Foundation is calling for investment into the development of a world-leading test – such as an app, to measure impairment, whether that is caused by drugs, alcohol, tiredness, or stress."

NZ Drug Foundation’s Five Asks for Budget 2022:

1. Fund nationwide rollout of Te Ara Oranga - $45 million

  • Te Ara Oranga reduces criminal offending by 34% for those referred.
  • Delivers a return on investment of between $3 - $7 for every dollar spent.

2. Invest in new and existing harm reduction services - $20 million

  • Reduce the likelihood of harm for all those who use or plan to use drugs – not just those already struggling with addiction.
  • Increase funding for drug checking, needle exchanges, health check-ups, medically supervised consumption spaces and the development of better drug information resources.

3. Increase investment in overdose prevention and urgent drug harm interventions - $5 million

  • Fund and distribute naloxone, a life-saving opioid overdose reversal medicine.
  • Secure and boost funding for the early warning system for dangerous drugs, High Alert. Currently costs $500,000 per annum.
  • Invest in overdose prevention training. 

4. Double funding for addiction support from $187 to $375 million 

  • Improve accessibility to treatment through greater access to managed withdrawal at home.
  • Develop kaupapa Māori services and other culturally appropriate treatment options.
  • Urgently provide additional training and career pathways into the addictions and harm reduction workforce.

5. Fund development of accurate drug impairment tests - to be costed

  • Research and develop an impairment test that can show a person is impaired - whether that be due to illicit drugs, prescription medications, stress, tiredness or other causes.
  • Could be used at roadsides or workplaces.


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