Report finds alcohol is most widely consumed drug, Māori suffer most harm from substances in NZ

A new report has found alcohol is still the most widely consumed drug in New Zealand with nearly 20 percent of adults drinking in a way that's likely to cause them harm.

The Drug Foundation's State of the Nation 2022 report, which was released on Thursday, looked at how Kiwis use drugs and who is most at risk. 

The report found 78.5 percent of people drink alcohol, down slightly from 81 percent in 2019/2020 and 19.5 percent of the population drink hazardously. 

It shows a longstanding trend of alcohol as the most widely consumed drug. 

"The substances that New Zealanders use most, and that cause the most harm, continue to be alcohol and tobacco," the report states. 

"Most New Zealand adults aged 15+ use alcohol at least once a year and a concerning number use in a way likely to cause themselves harm. Smoking rates continue to fall but remain stubbornly high in some demographic groups."

Men are slightly more likely to drink than women and people aged between 18 and 24 are by far the most likely age group to drink hazardously. 

The next most popular drug is cannabis with 4.5 percent of adults using it at least weekly and 15.3 percent using it each year - a rate nearly double that of 10 years ago. 

The report found Māori are twice as likely to use cannabis as non-Māori, and people identifying as Asian are around five times less likely to use cannabis than other ethnicities.  Men are also 1.4 times more likely to use it than women.

While amphetamine use is relatively steady, the report found certain communities are more at risk. 

Of adults 16+ around 40,000 (1.2 percent) consumed amphetamines, including speed, Ritalin and methamphetamine, in the past year. 

And less than one-quarter of those who use amphetamines use it monthly or more often.

The report found methamphetamine use is strongly linked to neighbourhood deprivation levels, gender, ethnicity and disability. Māori are also 1.8 times more likely to use amphetamines than non-Māori and Māori women are 2.7 times more likely to use than non-Māori women. 

Meanwhile, Pacific peoples are around 30 percent less likely to use amphetamines than the rest of the population. But men are nearly three times more likely to use amphetamines than women. 

Those living in the poorest neighbourhoods are over seven times more likely to use amphetamines than those living in the wealthiest. 

Disabled people are nearly three times more likely to use amphetamines than non-disabled people.

The report also found New Zealand has high rates of methamphetamine use compared to Europe, but lower than Australia, the United States and Canada. 

Māori suffering the most harm 

Māori are still suffering much more than other New Zealanders when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

The report found drug-related deaths for Māori are three times the rate for non-Māori, while Wāhine Māori are 3.6 times more likely to smoke daily than non-Māori women and 2.7 times more likely to use amphetamines.

Māori make up 48 percent of those convicted for drug possession offences and 61.9 percent of those sentenced to prison despite making up just 17 percent of the population. 

Convictions continue to fall but slowly 

The year ended 30 June 2021 saw the lowest number of charges and convictions for drug offences in the past 10 years. But several thousand people are still convicted of possession offences each year. 

The report found: 

  • One in six people are convicted of low-level drug offences alone (they received no other convictions).
  • Methamphetamine and cannabis charges predominate.
  • Changes to our drug laws in 2019 have had a lesser impact than hoped. The Misuse of Drugs Act Amendment has resulted in fewer court actions, but it's only a slight decrease.
  • Only 12 percent of cannabis charges result in prosecution, whereas for meth the figure is 51 percent and for LSD, a whopping 73 percent. 

Drug Foundation executive director, Sarah Helm says she hopes the report will prompt some real action. 

"The reality is, too many people are suffering harm or preventable death and our approach to drugs is making things worse or stopping people from getting help if they need it," Helm says. 

"No one reading this report should be happy with the incremental improvements we're making. There are real people behind these numbers, and they require urgent action"

"Māori in particular continue to bear the brunt of our approach. This report shows we continue to see disturbing and hugely inequitable outcomes, for example two-thirds of those convicted for drug-related offences are Māori. We urgently need to change gear if we're to reverse generations of harm."

"It's clear we won't solve drug harm without serious work to tackle broader societal issues of poverty, inequality, housing and belonging. The report also shows that we need to rewrite our punitive drug laws and move to a health-based approach, work across the board to reduce the stigma suffered by people who use drugs, and introduce harm reduction measures we've seen work overseas like supervised consumption spaces."