Government set to break methamphetamine programme rollout promise

Dr Ayesha Verrall.
Dr Ayesha Verrall. Photo credit: Getty Images.

By Anneke Smith of RNZ

The government looks set to break its 2020 election promise to roll out a highly successful methamphetamine programme to 4000 more people.

Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to expand Te Ara Oranga by that figure, at a cost of $38 million over four years, if re-elected.

Answers to written parliamentary questions by the National Party show it's unlikely the government will come close to delivering this by the end of the term.

As of 31 March 2023, 1845 more people had been seen under Te Ara Oranga, fewer than half promised by Ardern in 2020.

National's justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said slow progress on the rollout was a tragedy, given its proven effectiveness.

"It's a real missed opportunity to deal more effectively with what is a real scourge in our community which is methamphetamine addiction."

When RNZ first asked the government about the rollout's progress, Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said she would have to check the figures.

She later confirmed the programme had reached more than 4000 people but appeared to be tallying figures from every year dating back to 2017, as opposed to the number of people helped since the promise was made in 2020.

An evaluation report of Te Ara Oranga in late 2021 found a 34 percent reduction in harm from offending among the people Te Ara Oranga had helped and a return of between $3 and $7 for every $1 invested.

A report by The Helen Clark Foundation and the Drug Foundation concluded New Zealand's 'tough on crime' approach to methamphetamine had failed and Te Ara Oranga should be rolled out nationwide.

So far, the programme has only expanded beyond Northland to Murupara, in Bay of Plenty, where it has helped around 60 people.

Verrall said the government had expected a higher uptake, but it would take time to develop relationships in communities and recent extreme weather events had also disrupted progress.

Goldsmith did not have any concrete policy to offer up in regards to what National would do with Te Ara Oranga, but said a National-led government would put more money towards it.

"Our philosophy is to continue to support programmes that have demonstrated success. This is one that has demonstrated success and we will be channelling more of the discretionary funds in its direction."