"We need funding put into alcohol & other drug services and needle exchanges to enable health workers to get alongside people who use drugs. You need to be on the ground, right there, to vaccinate people who are hard to reach." - @sarahatthehelm— NZ Drug Foundation (@nzdrug) December 8, 2021
In early December, we held our 2021 NZ Drug Foundation AGM online, joined by over 100 members and 120 people watching live via Facebook. We had the honour of being joined by four exceptional guest speakers, who explored how drug policy has affected Covid-19 responses both here and overseas.
Drug harm and Covid-19 are both intricately entwined public health issues that our society is working to solve. Our first speaker, epidemiologist Prof. Michael Baker, knows just how effective good drug policy can be in tackling epidemics, having worked to set up the world-leading needle exchange program in the ‘80s as part of a response to HIV/AIDS. We heard from Prof Baker about the parallels between HIV/AIDS and Covid-19, and how drug policy in Aotearoa has contributed to a failure to control Covid-19 Delta.
"We've had 50 years of evidence saying the war on drugs doesn't work. Covid-19 thrives in stigma and secrecy. Criminalisation makes it hard to engage with people in the health system." - Prof. Michael Baker.— NZ Drug Foundation (@nzdrug) December 8, 2021
Watch the next talk from @HelenClarkNZ live: https://t.co/epQd6pEHYm
Watch Prof Baker’s full talk here:
We also heard from the Right Honourable Helen Clark, former Prime Minister. Helen spoke eloquently on decriminalization and the Global Commission for Drug Policy’s new report, which calls for an end to prohibition.
Finally, we were joined by Canadian experts from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, Dr Amanda Slaunwhite and Dr Heather Palis. Dr Slaunwhite outlined the ‘dual public health crisis’ that British Columbia is facing: overdoses and Covid-19, and how ‘safe supply’ of prescribed drugs can help reduce reliance on risky illicit drugs. Dr Palis ran us through the compelling data that shows safe supply is reducing overdoses and improving the region’s Covid-19 response.
"When we see contamination of illicit supply we see increase in overdose. When this happens, we need a health response to reduce dependence on illicit supply." - Dr Amanda Slaunwhite, talking about British Columbia's 'safe supply' program.— NZ Drug Foundation (@nzdrug) December 8, 2021
Watch live: https://t.co/epQd6pEHYm
Thank you to all who joined us for this AGM. Reflecting on the year, we’ve achieved so much despite the continual challenges of Covid-19. From funding vital opioid overdose medication naloxone, to finally making drug checking legal for good, we’re really proud of everyone working in the alcohol and other drug space to reduce harm. A huge thanks to our members, who inform our work, support us and celebrate the wins with us.
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.