A new report shows that New Zealand’s approach to drugs is leading to grossly unequitable outcomes for Māori across the board.
The NZ Drug Foundation’s 2022 State of the Nation, which pulls together the latest data on drug use, harm and enforcement from across government departments, Police and the education system, shows tangata whenua are being failed across nearly every aspect of the report:
NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director, Sarah Helm, says that while the stats show the enduring impact of colonisation, they also show that current-day policies are compounding that harm, not reversing it.
“The only word to describe a system where Māori make up two-thirds of those sentenced for drug-related offences is racist. There isn’t any other way to describe it. We urgently need to change gear if we’re to reverse generations of harm.”
Helm says that the harms from a punitive approach to drug use, instead of genuine health approaches, are evident throughout the report, with that impact falling most heavily on Māori.
“Our drug laws are broken, and this report shows that across the board. We know that criminalisation doesn’t deter use – it actually causes harm because it stops people from reaching out or seeking help if they need it.”
Helm says that work to reduce stigma of people who use drugs, setting up overdose prevention and harm reduction services, and bolstering drug support offered through health services will all contribute to improving outcomes for tangata whenua.
She also says that while it’s by no means a silver bullet, decriminalisation would also go a long way to curbing many of the harms highlighted in the report.
Survey participants also reported that barriers to accessing services, resources and information were high.
A group of powerful synthetic opioids that were first detected in the country just a year ago may have already been linked to several deaths.
95% of respondents reported positive effects, in a study that looked at both prescription and black market cannabis use.