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Gower Is Right – Treat Methamphetamine As A Health Issue

Following Patrick Gower’s documentary On P, the New Zealand Drug Foundation is calling for the government to fund the roll out of the successful programme Te Ara Oranga featured in last night’s documentary.

Te Ara Oranga, a $3m police-led health-based initiative that partners with community and the DHB is having promising results. The domestic initiative was started under the Key-led National government and continued on by Labour.

New Zealand Drug Foundation Executive Director Sarah Helm said the programme uses a mix of community action and health interventions alongside policing.

“Te Ara Oranga is having promising results. It would work even better if the health interventions were properly funded. It is time to fund it well and roll the programme out nationally.”

“One of the reasons for success is they are working to reduce demand and reduce harms through community action, things like support to employment and health interventions. Traditionally we have solely focused on supply control with limited results. Drug busts like the one last week seem good but they have limited and temporary impact. Without reducing demand or reducing harm, we are just playing ‘whack-a-mole’. The police hit one supplier and another pops up.”

A health-based approach would also mean decriminalising users so that they can be honest about their use and seek help. As described in the documentary by the spokespeople for the successful Northland programme: “we aren't treating it as a criminal problem anymore”.

“Yet nationally we continue to see users being prosecuted for low-level methamphetamine use and possession charges, despite the ability for police to use the discretion granted in the 2019 amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act to refer them to health services instead. It may seem counter-intuitive because we have been taught that banning use is the best way to prevent drug harm, but decades have proven that theory to be very wrong. It drives the problem underground preventing people from getting help and having honest conversations about their use.”

“One of the women featured in the documentary described asking Police for help years prior but she was unable to get it. We want that to change. Help should be available. We need to stop investing in prosecuting people who are using and focus on helping them avoid harm and addiction.”

Since the filming of the documentary new wastewater figures have been released showing a reduction in methamphetamine prevalence of 10 percent in 2020 as compared to 2019. Before that, methamphetamine use has remained about steady at 1% of the population for several years, which doesn’t back-up the claim of a growing methamphetamine problem depicted in the documentary.

However, people using methamphetamine are slow to seek help, in part due to fear of being prosecuted. Therefore we are concerned harms maybe worsening for those who are using it problematically, and for their loved ones and community. Supporting them earlier will prevent problems from escalating unchecked, said Ms Helm.

People who use methamphetamine heavily can recover and lead fulfilling lives if they are given a chance to.

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