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Addiction treatment review: paying practitioners more

Addiction treatment review: paying practitioners more is in society’s interests

dapaanz media release, 30 October 2017

The Drug and Alcohol Practitioners Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (dapaanz) is heartened by the new Government’s intention to review mental health and addiction services, and says it looks forward to collaborating with it to increase available treatment options for people experiencing addiction in New Zealand.

However, dapaanz Executive Director Sue Paton said the review must include the issues of pay equity and better remuneration for trained clinicians in the addiction workforce.

“The simple fact is people experiencing addiction who are left untreated come at a high cost to society and there are currently not enough trained clinicians to meet demands for treatment,” Ms Paton said.

“If we are to retain and grow the workforce we currently have, we need to look seriously at just how much we are paying these highly professional and committed clinicians who work under immense emotional pressure, often going the extra mile for high needs clients.”

She said pay rates for addiction practitioners should reflect the high standard of training they receive.

“Currently our pay-rates are much lower than those of other health care professionals who have earned three-year degrees. And our practitioners still have to pay off their student loans and other costs associated with their training, just like everybody else.

“Starting salaries can be as low as $30,000, and even experienced addiction practitioners are paid around 20 percent less than many other health care professionals, so there’s little financial incentive and many working in the addiction sector are tempted to move away. That’s not in anybody’s interest.”

Ms Paton said the need for highly professional addiction practitioners in New Zealand has never been higher, especially with the rise in methamphetamine use despite the targeted efforts of the previous Government.

“As well as this, there are emerging challenges facing the addiction workforce relating to synthetic drugs like AMB Fubinaca.

“The other side of that coin, of course, is that we cannot emphasize enough the amazing work clinicians do and the incredible difference they make in the lives of those who do receive treatment and in the lives of their whanau and loved ones.”

Ms Paton said the lack of trained professionals in the sector has meant people in recovery have had to step up and that “peer-led” drop in centres and online support groups are now filling the gaps in service provision.

“While this is a great thing, peer support works best alongside the services of trained professionals. It is not a substitute for those services on its own.”

She said countries like Portugal and Holland have increased the resources they've put into treatment resulting in lower rates of drug use, drug-related crime and incarcerations.

“Treatment works. It saves people and society a lot in terms of money and suffering and we look forward to working with the Government to see that the treatment sector is sufficiently resourced to achieve similar results here.”

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