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Mental Health Inquiry says treat drugs as a health issue

The Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry has recommended that the government take strong action on alcohol and other drugs, including removing criminal sanctions for personal drug use and providing a broader range of health interventions instead.
These are among 40 recommendations made by the Inquiry in their report released today by Health Minister David Clark.

“The Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry has joined a chorus of other voices urging the government to treat drugs as a health and social issue. Based on these recommendations the government can be confident its plan to take a fresh approach to drugs is the right thing to do,” said Ross Bell, Drug Foundation Executive Director.

“The Inquiry has said that punitive approaches to drugs are ineffective in reducing drug use and create a barrier for people seeking help, and that criminal justice responses fail to acknowledge the root causes of drug addiction.

“The Inquiry highlights how health-based approaches to drug use, such as the Portugal model, show great promise for transforming how we do things now. They’ve proposed a new approach that includes removing criminal sanctions for personal possession, introducing health referrals and early intervention, increasing funding for addiction treatment, and expanding the range of health interventions available to people, especially community and peer-support services.”

Ross Bell says that this comprehensive public health model is consistent with the 2011 Law Commission drug law review and recent proposals from the Drug Foundation and other health agencies.

The Drug Foundation has thanked the Inquiry team for their public consultation efforts and the final report, and acknowledges the many thousands of people who shared their experiences.

“New Zealand’s mental health and addiction issues are complex and challenging and intersect deeply with underlying causes such as poverty, homelessness and social exclusion. We are impressed with the outcome of the Inquiry and the team’s ability to capture and reflect the voices of individuals, families and communities in a compelling way. Their report maps out a clear direction for the government to take.

“We especially endorse the recommendation to establish a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission. The ambitious transformation proposed in the report needs leadership; New Zealand won’t succeed in this if it continues to do the same old thing. We also agree with their recommendation to improve cross-government coordination on alcohol and other drug policy,” said Mr Bell.

The Drug Foundation says the public expectations on the government to act on this report are high.

“Along with many health and social agencies, we released an open letter to the Prime Minister yesterday asking for the government to double funding to addiction treatment, harm reduction and prevention services, as well as replace criminal sanctions for drug use with health referrals and support. There is a strong consensus on taking a public health approach to drug issues. We now need the government to act and to demonstrate this in the 2019 wellbeing budget,” said Ross Bell.

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