Mum of recovered meth addict says health-based approach could have prevented son's arrest

The mother of a recovered methamphetamine addict says a health-based approach to tackling drugs in Aotearoa could have prevented her son's arrest. 

It comes after the Drug Foundation called for a more holistic approach to fixing New Zealand's methamphetamine problem on Thursday. 

It said the Government spends four times as much on ineffective drug law enforcement than it spends on measures that actually prevent drug harm.

It's a stance backed by Annwyn Carter-Kelly whose son started using drugs at 13 years old.  

Carter-Kelly's son is now in recovery thanks to rehab, but it came at a cost. 

She told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green on Friday she desperately tried to get help for her son for years, but he was only able to get into rehab after he was arrested. 

"Meth became a problem in and out of his life through his teenage years, into his 20s and his early 30s. 

"I think his heart and his intention was to be clean the whole time but he didn't have the knowledge and the support to get clean."

Carter-Kelly said Te Ara Oranga was crucial to her son's recovery. 

Te Ara Oranga is a Northland-based programme that works to reduce the demand for meth by providing health and social support.

A report found that for those referred to the programme criminal offending was reduced by 34 percent.

Carter-Kelly told Chan-Green it's devastating to see how much money is poured into enforcement versus intervention and support. 

"It just breaks my heart because when we called out for help there were little beds in rehab, there was a six to nine-month wait. You go to the hospital and get told there is nothing they can do…

"If that money was put into helping families then that money would filter out into the community. It would certainly help us to help the addict more, or to know how to understand the drug and how we can be more effective because, for me, there was nobody that I knew that had been through what I was going through or knew how to help me to help my son."

She said if her son had been able to get into rehab earlier it could have sped up his recovery significantly. 

"Unfortunately for our story my son was arrested but from there we were able to get him into rehab and that has done the trick - he is doing really well. 

"Rehab was an awesome breakthrough for him, it was just a shame that we had to go through the legal process to get him into rehab. If he had a rehab bed the very first time we asked for one, it may have cut his journey shorter by years."

Green Party Drug Reform Spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick told Newshub Late on Thursday the Government's current approach to drugs isn't working. 

"The question is one of efficacy. Are we actually trying to achieve something here or are we trying to look like we are achieving something? "Because we know that the settings that we have had both in policy and the spending that we have had… for the past 40 or 50 years have not gotten rid of drugs. 

Green Party Drug Reform Spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick.
Green Party Drug Reform Spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick. Photo credit: Newshub

"In fact, it has meant that we are seeing more drugs, more drug harm, more people locked up in prison, more families torn apart and ultimately more community harm, so something has to be done differently." 

Swarbrick said Te Ara Oranga is an example that a health-based approach does work. 

"It shows that for every $1 spent you're getting a return of $3 to $7. There is a 35 percent reduction in drug harm related crime and offending and it ultimately actually is about trying to reduce the demand for methamphetamine in that community - not just punishing people which we know instigates and continues that cycle." 

The Drug Foundation is calling for Te Ara Oranga to be funded nationwide.

"It would cost about $40-45 million to roll it out properly around the country, its return on investment would be at least three times that,'' Drug Foundation Executive Director Sarah Helm said.

Helm said too much money goes on failed approaches.

"We need to stop waiting until somebody needs hospital-level care treatment, or turns up in a cell before we offer them help.