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Anderton speech: Today’s youth – our future

Jim Anderton Speech: Today’s youth – our future workforce

09:00 am Wednesday, 9 April 2003 Sixth Annual New Zealand Australia Conference on Addictive Disease Wellington Convention Centre

Chairmen John Savage, Tom Claunch Overseas guests Ladies and gentlemen

I don’t have to tell you at this conference how serious the effects of drugs and alcohol are on the lives and health of young people.

Or the effects of drugs and alcohol abuse and youth suicide on families and communities.

There is strong evidence that there is also a high economic cost as those affected are less able, or finally unable to make any contribution to their communities.

Every day, misuse of drugs and alcohol is harming our future workforce.

We are losing young people to prisons, to underemployment and unemployment, and we are losing them to suicide – although I am pleased to say that suicide numbers in New Zealand are falling.

In my experience, there are very few people who do not recognise the seriousness of drug and alcohol abuse.

If there are issues that are not widely understood, they centre around the scale of the problem and why drug and alcohol abuse occurs.

Although the information is a few years old, Brian Easton conducted the most thorough and comprehensive New Zealand summary of the costs in 1990.

He estimated the costs of alcohol abuse in New Zealand in 1990 to be approximately $2.9 billion. Easton's study says the cost of smoking to the New Zealand community for the same year was $1.2 billion. These cost estimates are based upon a range of drug related harms including premature death, lost productivity, reduced working efficiency, excess unemployment, increased hospital and other health costs as well as increased law enforcement. Research in Christchurch found that people on waiting lists for methadone treatment have to each raise $1000 per week to support their drug dependence. It was estimated that prior to treatment, one Christchurch treatment centre’s clients had cost New Zealand $2.8 million in terms of court and prison costs, benefits, medical costs, motor vehicle accidents and costs associated to their criminal activity. The average cost in 1994 of treating one client was $828,000.

Our prisons are full of people with alcohol and drug problems. One survey in the late 90s found that 83 per cent of inmates in New Zealand prisons had a problem with either alcohol or drugs.

Evidence suggests that many of those inmates develop their addictions in their early teens and this begins a cycle of addiction, crime and punishment.

It is said that every drug addict or alcoholic affects ten people around them. Given the number of people affected the impact on our communities is significant. It is a hidden barrier to both social and economic development and stronger, safer communities.

Youth Suicide is also a significant issue that the Labour Progressive Government is addressing. I have been given responsibility for the New Zealand Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy as well as the National Drug Policy dealing with illicit drugs.

Suicide takes around 100 young New Zealanders lives each year. Although the absolute numbers are declining, possibly, at least in part, to improving economic conditions and the implementation of our youth suicide prevention strategy, every suicide represents a tragic failure.

Research undertaken as part of the Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy shows that about 90 per cent of young people who die by suicide have experienced some kind of mental episode, such as depression, and or are the victims of substance abuse.

In New Zealand, we’ve now got more and better mental health services for young people than we used to have – the number of staff working full-time in child and youth mental health services grew from 350 to 679 between 1988 and 2001.

This is a great improvement, and has probably contributed to the decline in suicide numbers, but we need to keep up the momentum towards higher quality mental health and drug abuse services.

In the year 2000 the total number of suicides among New Zealanders aged 15-24 years was 96, down from 120 in 1999 and 140 in 1998. This is the lowest number and rate since 1986 when there were 91 suicides.

There has been some criticism of the Government and government agencies based on the assertion that Government believes that suicide should not be talked about. I want to say today that there are times when suicide must be talked about. We encourage talking with parents, caregivers and teachers about identifying and acting on severe depression in young people. However, encouraging young people to focus on suicide through awareness-raising exercises is not to be encouraged. Evidence suggests that this approach tends to ‘normalise’ the idea of suicide. Suicide is an abnormal event and is, in fact rare, in school age children.

Clinical experience suggests that if mental health issues are appropriately identified and addressed, suicides can be prevented.

The effects of suicide are felt by families and other individuals for the rest of their lives.

I am therefore pleased to be part of a Government which is taking seriously our responsibility to tackle the issue of drug abuse and youth suicide.

Today I can announce some measures in the 2003 Budget that I requested as leader of the Progressive Party.

This ability to achieve funding which supports major policy priorities of a coalition partner, highlights the benefits to New Zealand of successful coalition governments, where like minded parties work together to deliver positive solutions to the challenges faced by New Zealand communities.

It is a very high priority that we give more support to the families, whanau and caregivers affected by suicide.

Often a suicide can result in another attempted or actual suicide by a brother, sister, father, mother or other close relative.

In one of my regional visits I met one mother who had lost all three of her children to suicide.

Losing one child to suicide is a significant and devastating blow for any family, I have no idea how anyone copes with three.

Another area is care and support for families and whanau where there has been an attempted suicide.

Where suicide has been attempted, families end up walking through a minefield of emotions.

It can result in depression and even suicide attempts by other family members.

And with the right support and information, those people who support someone who is suicidal can play an important role in their recovery.

For both of these areas of concern I can announce today that the 2003 Budget provides $1.3 million for each initiative or $2.6 million over four years.

We will be establishing support for families and whanau in an area where in the past people have not known where to turn or what to do.

At the present time, the Ministry of Youth Affairs has an operational budget of only $40,000 to lead and co-ordinate implementation of the Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy.

The Ministry will receive from Budget 2003 an additional $150,000 for each of the next two years to develop policy projects and resources to give this strategy a real boost.

Some of the areas tagged for further development are: a review of suicide prevention guidelines and training; better resources and information for the media about reporting on suicide; and how to improve our efforts to prevent suicide among young Maori. These are all areas where we believe that if we could do more, then the youth suicide rate would continue to decline.

In addition there is a need to evaluate the Youth Suicide Prevention strategy to ensure that the Strategy is effective, and to identify where and how government could be more effective in preventing youth suicide. One area that needs more work is how well we are co-operating with Maori communities to prevent suicide among young Maori.

The 2003 Budget includes $75,000 to complete a full evaluation of the strategy.

As chair of the Ministerial Committee on National Drug Policy I have supported and advocated for a range of measures to address alcohol and drug problems, particularly as they affect young people.

Last Sunday I announced that Christchurch will have a much needed youth residential treatment centre to support the work of the Youth Drug Court pilot there.

The 2003 Budget will contain $620,000 in annual operating funding and a $250,000 one off capital expenditure payment to provide for the centre.

The lack of a residential centre has been identified as a major barrier to the success of the Youth Drug Court which is being piloted in Christchurch, and has been supported by local agencies who must now work in partnership to establish this facility.

The decision on the physical location of the centre and which agency will service it will be made over the coming months, in discussion with relevant groups in Christchurch.

The Ministerial Committee overseeing the National Drug Policy emphasises the need for effective law enforcement, credible, effective messages about drug-related harm and effective health, treatment and support services.

Our balanced approach to drug policy is in line with similar approaches that have been developed in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and a number of other nations.

Before Christmas we announced the reclassification of methamphetamines, released a major report on youth drinking, assessed the effectiveness of needle exchanges and committed to reviewing the low excise tax paid on alco-pops and other alcoholic drinks aimed at children.

The most significant issue was my announcement that Methamphetamine will be reclassified as a class A drug, and that the amount required to be deemed a supplier will be lowered from 56 to 5 grams.

To date, around 140 illegal labs have been raided by police. This growing methamphetamine problem needs to addressed head on. Methamphetamine, also called ‘P’, has had a particularly devastating effect on some Maori communities.

Anecdotally I have heard there is talk by some Maori elders of putting a ‘rahui’ or ban on P because of the damage it is doing to Maori.

I would applaud this move.

Government cannot act alone and we need to work with communities to address this serious issue.

The reclassification should be law within weeks depending on progress in the Health Select Committee.

I am also advised that there is a growing awareness of methcathinone. The government is one step ahead and methcathinone is in the process of being classified Class B1which imposes 14 years imprisonment on manufacturers of this drug.

Our intention is not to punish the victims but to stop its exploitation through manufacture, distribution or supply.

The Ministerial Action Committee is considering 32 items for implementation and one is an action plan to address methamphetamines.

There are a range of other items on the agenda including measures to combat the misuse of alcohol.

One drug which some people think is harmless is marijuana.

I have seen, at first hand, the detrimental effect of marijuana on individuals, families and communities, particularly in areas of high unemployment.

While there is a commonly held view that marijuana is not addictive, particularly by those who use it, many people are unable to give it up without significant change to their lifestyle and attitude.

Even as employment conditions improve many people remain unable to work, or are unsafe to have in a work place (the forestry industry or industrial sites as examples) due to the effects of heavy use of cannabis.

The 2003 Budget includes 15 community action initiatives to combat the effect of cannabis and other illicit drugs as part of the Progressive Party’s Budget initiatives.

These initiatives are based on the recently successful community project undertaken by Community Action on Youth and Drugs (CAYAD).

The project proved effective in addressing community issues relating to alcohol and drug use in Kaitaia, Hokianga, Whangaruru, West Auckland, Opotiki and Nelson.

The intention is now to run six additional initiatives in rural areas, focussed on cannabis as well as other substances and nine in urban areas focussed on a range of illicit drugs including methamphetamine.

The areas will be selected on the basis of where the use of the drug is highest. In each case a local team of key agencies will be brought together to develop local action plans.

The initiative will also include national development meetings for the local teams.

These community initiatives will receive a total of up to $2.55 million per year to resource their work.

A further $150,000 per year has been put aside for a Drug Information analyst.

I doubt there is anyone here today who would dispute that to successfully implement policies to reduce drug-related harm, those policies must be based on accurate, comprehensive and accessible information covering the drug and alcohol sector. This budget provision of additional funding will provide for a dedicated analyst to manage National Drug Policy reporting.

This Budget allocation related to drugs and suicide which I have announced today was part of the budget bid I made as leader of the Progressive Party. This shows the commitment my party has to combating the worst effects of drugs and alcohol on our communities and the value of stable participatory coalition government.

You can only have denial of a problem for so long before you have to take the first steps towards addressing it.

I want to close by saying that not only is the Progressive party taking these issues seriously, but so are our Labour colleagues in the coalition.

The Labour Progressive Government has eleven ministers involved with the Ministerial Committee on National Drug Policy and seven actively pursuing an action list of 32 items.

The announcements I have made are just the beginning.

The human cost of drug and alcohol abuse is too high for us to allow the damage done to our young people to continue.

I have often said that the test of a good Government is how well it looks after those who are the most vulnerable in any society.

People who become addicted to alcohol and drugs, and children and young adults exposed to alcohol and harmful drugs are an instance where the Government has a protective role.

Over the next three years we will be implementing and then evaluating and refining our programme.

I look forward to your co-operation and support for those endeavours.

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