Health approach to drugs more effective than banning them - Drug Foundation

Drug Foundation says health approach more effective than banning drugs.
Drug Foundation says health approach more effective than banning drugs. Photo credit: Getty Images

By Hamish Cardwell RNZ

The Drug Foundation says the expansion of a methamphetamine treatment programme shows a health approach to drugs is far more effective than prohibition.

The Te Ara Oranga programme was opened in Bay of Plenty yesterday after a successful pilot scheme in Northland.

It is a partnership between police, mental health and addiction services; iwi and community groups.

It was piloted in Northland and provides culturally-appropriate therapeutic help specially tailored for the local community.

Health Minister Andrew Little said demand for addiction treatment services has grown steadily over the past decade.

"Te Ara Oranga is a unique partnership.

"It has been shown to reduce drug-related harm and support better community health, improved social wellbeing including re-engagement with whānau and employment, and better justice outcomes including reduced family violence and crime."

Little said 3000 Northland people and their whanau had been helped by the programme, and for every dollar spent there has been a return of between $3 and $7.

The Foundation's executive director Sarah Helm said the programme has widespread political support and was started under the previous National Party-led Government.

"This is not a soft touch approach, this is an actual comprehensive approach. It is a real approach instead of pretending to do something about the problem by simply banning it."

Helm said the programme was comparatively cheap and should be expanded nationwide as soon as communities were able.

"We have other parts of the country that are chomping at the bit to be able to undertake this in their region.

"It would cost about $40m to $45m to roll it out around the country."

Green Party spokesperson for drug law reform Chlöe Swarbrick said good money has been spent after bad for 40-plus years on mainstream punitive approaches and it has only made things worse for communities.

"It is time to roll out an evidence-based public health approach to meth harm as the proven best possible way to reduce harm among our communities.

"But if we are serious about tackling drug harm then the Government also needs to fund the health, housing, and community services that address the very problems which drive people into substance addiction and abuse in the first place," said Swarbrick.

Little said in addition to services rolling out in Murupara, $3.5 million of funding would enable Te Ara Oranga to expand and cover a geographical area from Whakatāne to Rotorua, and include Ōpōtiki, Kawerau, and Murupara.

This year's Budget included a $100-million investment for a specialist mental health and addiction package.

RNZ