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'Demand for treatment outstrips supply, as Kiwis continue to be convicted for minor drug offences'

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Some New Zealanders are missing out on treatment, as services report a spike in COVID-19 fuelled demand has exacerbated an existing shortage of places for those needing it, according to a report released by the New Zealand Drug Foundation today. The State of the Nation report underscores the need for the Government to undertake further drug law reform and invest in treatment and prevention.

Policy and Advocacy Manager Kali Mercier says: "Treatment providers have been reporting difficulties meeting an increased demand for their services. One reported a 300% increase in referrals since Covid-19. There needs to be a reality check to determine whether we are prepared for what may still be to come. While some people reduced their use of drugs during lockdown, for others use increased."

The State of the Nation report also shows that despite an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act last year, illicit drug convictions do not appear to be slowing. The amendment aimed to reduce the number of unnecessary convictions by solidifying into law the Police’s existing discretion to only prosecute for possession or use of drugs if it is ‘required in the public interest’. "While the total number of court actions for possession offences went down slightly in the 10 months since the law change, the total number of proceedings actually rose due to an increase in warnings issued. In 2019/20, 3067 people in total were convicted of low-level drug offences, and for 1126 people, the drug conviction was their most serious offence." "Of those convicted, almost half were under 30 years, 71% were men and Māori made up 39%."

Overall the report shows steady and concerning rates of harmful alcohol use, as well as an increase in those using cannabis.

"Methamphetamine use remained steady, and although only a very small percentage of the population use this substance it continues to be of concern. MDMA use has increased. However, alcohol continues to be the drug causing the most harm in New Zealand."

A third of New Zealanders have a moderate to high risk of experiencing health and other problems from their substance use - mostly from alcohol and tobacco.

"Today’s report continues to demonstrate that we need increased funding for treatment and early intervention as well as a step change in the way we deal with drug use in New Zealand. Other countries, such as Portugal, have shown a health-based approach can significantly reduce harmful use, and use among young people."

"We know the Government sees the importance of treating drug use as a health issue. Their decisive action last week to legalise drug checking at festivals shows they get it. And this change was met with a positive response, showing most New Zealanders get it too. But that was just one piece of the puzzle."

This is the third State of the Nation report published by the Drug Foundation. Figures are collated from a range of public sources and data obtained via the Official Information Act.

Download: nzdrug.org/SoTN

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