Funding boost and significant shift needed for health-based approach to drugs

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Funding boost and significant shift needed for health-based approach to drugs

Media Release from New Zealand Drug Foundation Te Puna Whakaiti Pāmamae Kai Whakapiri
2 minutes to Read
Unfiltered 2021

Health services for people who use drugs require a significant boost in funding and a shift towards early intervention, harm reduction, strengthening of natural supports and an increase in kaupapa Māori approaches if we want a truly health-based approach to drugs, says the New Zealand Drug Foundation Te Puna Whakaiti Pāmamae Kai Whakapiri.

The Foundation outlined its vision for what health, harm reduction, and addiction services should look like for people who use drugs in a new paper, A health-based approach to drug harm in Aotearoa, released to coincide with the global day of action for ‘Support. Don’t Punish’, an international campaign pushing for drug policies based on health and human rights.

Executive Director Sarah Helm says that existing services can't keep up with demand and there is little in place to help people until they have reached a crisis point. She says that even then, people still might not get help because of chronic underfunding of the sector. The situation is compounded by drug laws that stop people seeking help for fear of prosecution.

“It should be easier to get help than it is to end up with a conviction or in hospital,” she says. “We could stop so much harm and save so much money if we offered people support earlier.”

Helm says a full overhaul of the country’s drug laws is needed to transform the outcomes of New Zealanders who use drugs, but much can be achieved with health services and system changes, which the paper highlights.

“People often ask us what we mean by a ‘health-based approach’ and what we would replace the current approach with. For the health, harm reduction and addictions sector, this is our answer,” she says.

“If we redirected the massive amounts of money we spend on ineffective crime and punishment approaches towards what we’ve outlined in this paper, the results would be transformative for New Zealand.”

“The great news is some of this is already happening. New services like drug checking have been hugely successful and they have prevented untold harm and saved lives. And established services like the needle exchange have a long track record that shows how much harm can be prevented with a health approach.”

“Now we need to apply what we’ve learnt from these interventions to the rest of our health system.”

“We desperately need a system that understands what causes drug harm and focuses on reducing it, rather than wasting money on failed approaches that just cause more harm."

The paper includes a suite of recommended approaches, including:

  • ensuring people receive non-judgemental primary health care, including appropriate advice and screening
  • strengthening ‘natural supports’ by better equipping friends, whānau and communities to support people who need help
  • increasing coverage of kaupapa Māori services and boosting the Māori workforce
  • resourcing whānau Māori who are doing the job that the health system is currently failing to do
  • increasing the involvement of people with lived and living experience in service design and delivery
  • providing better harm reduction information
  • ensuring adequate diagnosis and treatment of conditions that increase the risk of substance use disorder such as ADHD, chronic pain and mental health disorders
  • expanding needle exchange and drug checking services
  • introducing overdose prevention centres
  • improving access to naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medicine
  • increasing the availability of support and treatment, including those with no or low entry criteria
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