Drug addiction sector questions meth epidemic claims

Drug addiction sector questions meth epidemic claims

People working on the frontline of drug addiction services are saying we are not doing enough to address methamphetamine use in New Zealand.

Gang leaders are saying the country is in the midst of a second P epidemic, but those working in addiction services aren't so sure.

Speaking to TV3's The Nation, Dr Vanessa Caldwell, head of methamphetamine services at workforce development provider Te Pou, said rather than a second epidemic, we might be seeing those who have been using for some time becoming more visible as they develop problematic use.

"It's the addiction treatment stats that are actually increasing," Dr Caldwell said.

"The other statistics that are increasing are those people having difficulty accessing treatment, and that's the key issue that I think we need to address."

Drug addiction sector questions meth epidemic claims

The 2014/15 Health survey showed amphetamine use is at 0.9 percent for those aged 16-64 - that's down from 2.7 percent in 2003. The survey found no change in prevalence since 2011.

Ross Bell from the New Zealand Drug Foundation also asked whether we are seeing long-term users becoming more visible.

"Is it that we are now left with a concentrated group who have been using methamphetamine for a long time, who is getting that kind of chaos that you see with methamphetamine use?"

Dr Caldwell and Mr Bell said the Government needs to back up talk about reducing the demand for methamphetamine with resources and funding.

Mr Bell from the NZ Drug Foundation said the Government's focus on demand rather than supply has been a "great success", more than halving the number of meth users in New Zealand since the early 2000s.

He said the health approach works - and if investing more in the sector means funnelling money away from the criminal justice approach, that's what should happen.

However Dr Vanessa said the health-approach rhetoric isn't backed up by Government funding.

"We've got it in writing that the resources will be allocated according to the priority around people first and getting help... but actually, the money doesn't follow that. The money is an 80/20 split between police and corrections [and health]."

Mr Bell agreed, saying a good goal for the Government would be cutting out waiting lists for those seeking addiction help.

"I think it's appalling in this country that when someone puts their hand up for help, they're told that 'we can't see you for a few months.'

 "That's a ridiculous situation," he said. "We should aim for zero waiting lists."