Address to Australasian Therapeutic Communities Association
Hon Peter Dunne
Associate Minister of Health
12 October 2015 Speech
Opening Address to the Australasian Therapeutic Communities Association Conference, Auckland
Kia Ora everyone and a very warm welcome to our overseas visitors.
I would especially like to welcome Eric as Chair of the Australasian Therapeutic Communities Association, and the many Australian delegates who have travelled across the Tasman.
Also, a special welcome to our other overseas guests, including those key note speakers from the United Kingdom and the United States.
We are very honoured to have New Zealand host this conference, and I am delighted to be able to address you on this first morning.
I remember meeting Lynne Magor-Blatch and Stuart Anderson representing ATCA back in April 2010.
At that time Stuart was the CEO at Higher Ground here in Auckland.
Lynne and Stuart were very keen to impress on me how therapeutic communities set out to restore a sense of self, a sense of hope, and a sense of belonging to people who enter your communities.
Back then ATCA had only recently launched the National Standards for Therapeutic Communities and theTherapeutic Communities Training Package.
The aims of those projects were:
• to provide service standards for good therapeutic community practice
• to enable service evaluation and quality improvement
• to develop a common language between services
• to provide a strong network of supportive relationships
• to build the workforce capacity within the sector, and
• to create a career pathway for all trained alcohol and other drug workers, including those workers with “lived” experience.
I suspect many of those same issues will occupy your time over the next few days as you consider “partnerships in treatment”.
To be able to do what you do, to restore people, you cannot do this alone. You need those partnerships. There needs to be the right political and legislative frameworks to support treatment; there needs to be community and family support; there needs to be strong clinical governance, and there needs to be a well-trained and supported workforce.
I understand that the first pilot of a training programme designed especially for the TC workforce in New Zealand is running from August to December 2015. The programme is aimed at supporting new addiction practitioners already working in therapeutic communities and those wanting to work in the therapeutic communities’ environment.
I would like to congratulate the staff of Matua Raki, (the addiction workforce development centre), the TC communities leaders, Higher Ground who are hosting the course, the course facilitators, and the students themselves for taking on this programme. I would also like to congratulate the ATCA Board for the work carried out over many years to eventually get the National Standards for Therapeutic Communities accredited by JAS-ANZ last year.
Your determination and perseverance to uphold the standards expected of TCs is outstanding.
The right political framework – the new National Drug Policy
In terms of the political and policy context in which TCs operate, New Zealand has recently released an updated National Drug Policy. The Policy’s overarching goal remains to minimise the harm from alcohol and drug use.
This has been expanded to also include the promotion of health and wellbeing. This takes a more holistic view of harm minimisation and is more inclusive of families, whānau and communities.
This will help us strive towards the wider social sector goals of reducing welfare dependency, supporting vulnerable children, boosting skills and employment, and reducing crime. The revised National Drug Policy carries over the same three strategies of problem limitation, demand reduction and supply control.
But unlike the previous Policy, it focuses on five new Priority Areas in order to guide action.
• creating a people-centred intervention system
• shifting thinking and behaviour
• getting the legal balance right
• disrupting organised crime, and
• improving information flow.
Creating people-centred intervention systems
Firstly, our system for dealing with alcohol and drugs must be people-centred.
We need to make sure that services are better joined up so that ‘no door is the wrong door’. Interventions need to be tailored to different populations and needs. Services need to respond to people as early, efficiently and effectively as possible.
We need to accept that people will typically present with both mental health and addiction disorders and to respond accordingly. This is all very relevant to the TC model of care, whether it is a TC located in a prison, is based around the Courts, or is firmly set in the community.
In order to do this, we will develop a map of potential intervention points across a person’s life course, and create common tools to foster system change.
Shifting thinking and behaviour
Secondly, the Policy aims to shift people’s thinking and behaviour about alcohol and drugs.
We need to build new ways of thinking about alcohol and drugs, particularly around New Zealand’s drinking culture. We also need to encourage people to seek help, and to make the right support available at the right time. Change in this area will require a sustained effort over a long period of time, but it is achievable.
Getting the legal balance right
Thirdly, the Policy emphasises the need to get the legal balance right.
This responds to the recommendations made by the New Zealand Law Commission in their 2011 review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. The interface between addiction treatment and the justice sector deserves special attention, as all too often it provides the best opportunity for someone to address their alcohol and drug use when they are called to account before a judge.
However, the laws that politicians make, and that we expect judges to deliberate on, need to be reasonable, and it is crucial that our enforcement response is proportionate. We want to make sure that drug use is deterred where possible, but also that the laws are actually working for individuals, communities and society.
We are trying to minimise harm, not create more. The Law Commission recommended that we repeal the Act and replace it with a whole new one.
We thought carefully about this recommendation. But we have now decided that a complete revision of the Act is not required at this time. Instead we want to dig deeper. We want to understand how the legislation is operating on the ground. Is the legislation allowing appropriate access to controlled drugs for medical reasons, while protecting communities from their misuse?
Does it allow Police to make appropriate decisions to stop drug harm?
The Act only sets the boundaries for us to work within. We can still make changes within that. So a number of actions in the new Policy respond explicitly to the Law Commission recommendations.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health will work with the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs to make sure that drug classification decisions are focused on harm. They will also commence work to examine whether the laws and enforcement around drug possession and utensil possession are still reasonable compared to the severity of these offences.
We have already made progress in reviewing how controlled drugs are used for legitimate purposes. This has identified the need to examine labelling and packaging requirements as part of the new Therapeutic Products regime.
We will also re-examine the prescribing process for Sativex, New Zealand’s only approved medicinal cannabis product. When we have made progress in all of these areas, I believe that we will be in a better place to consider what a new Misuse of Drugs Act might look like.
Disrupting organised crime
The Policy’s fourth Priority Area is to disrupt organised crime.
We need a multiagency approach in order to break supply chains and disrupt the ability of criminal groups to sell illegal drugs.
It is important that our efforts are as innovative as those of the criminals we are trying to stop.
Improving information flow
Finally, the Policy aims to improve the way the government uses information.
This is vital if we are going to anticipate and respond to alcohol and drug issues effectively. Greater availability of information is also crucial for people and communities to make better decisions about alcohol and drugs.
The five Priority Areas will ensure that the Policy focuses on the things that matter. But they are not the only way that this Policy improves upon its predecessor.
Another key difference with the new Policy is that it contains far more robust accountability mechanisms. This will allow us to actually track the progress we are making, and I have required government agencies to report annually to Cabinet on their progress.
Making promises is not enough. We need to make sure we keep them and this new accountability system will do that. This is a Policy I am very pleased with.
I think all of New Zealand can be pleased with it as well. It places us on the forefront of policymaking and builds upon what we know has been working so far – without compromising our most important values.
Over the next two days you will all get the opportunity to discuss, debate, and share your ideas on what works and what does not. More importantly, I hope these ideas inspire you, and that you take them home with you and that you are able to put them into practice. Therapeutic communities have an important role to play in providing that sense of self, sense of hope, and sense of belonging that I mentioned at the start.
I wish you well for a very enjoyable, very productive conference.