A new State of the Nation report released today by the NZ Drug Foundation shows that while we are doing well in some areas, there is massive room for improvement.
The report highlights the unprecedented number of deaths in the past 18 months linked to synthetic cannabinoid substances. The coroner has indicated as many as 50 deaths may be connected with the use of synthetic drugs since June 2017.
“These deaths are an indictment and a reminder that our current approach is not working. The Government has just announced changes to how Police will deal with people in possession of drugs, along with new funding for frontline organisations dealing with the crisis. This is a great first step, but we can’t afford to be complacent about how our current drug law is affecting people,” Kali Mercier said.
The report summarises data from the criminal justice system. Of 62,173 convictions for drug offences in the decade to 2017, 61% of these were for low-level drug charges such as personal possession and use, or possession of a drug utensil. Convictions for low-level drug offences have been increasing over the last five years.
“Too many people are convicted on low-level drug charges every year. Nearly half are young people under 30, 80% are male, and 41% are Māori. A drug conviction affects relationships, employment and travel opportunities. That’s a life sentence for some, and it’s clear that the burden falls to some groups more than others,” Kali Mercier said.
The report notes:
• Illicit drug convictions are creeping up. In 2017, 5710 people were convicted on drugs charges – 61% of these convictions were for low-level drug offences.
• Low-level methamphetamine convictions have risen as cannabis convictions have tapered off, pushing overall rates up.
• More people are being imprisoned for low-level drug convictions, and over half of them are Māori.
• Nearly half of all drug convictions are handed out to people under 30 years.
Demand for addiction treatment continues to grow. 5,000 more people accessed treatment in 2017 than five years earlier.
“We would expect the resourcing for treatment at the very least to keep pace with rising demand. Yet the number of addiction treatment positions funded has barely grown in the past five years. This has compounded the underlying issue, which is that the sector as a whole is massively underfunded. We’re calling on the Government to acknowledge that when it sets next year’s Budget,” Kali Mercier said.
There are some bright lights in the way New Zealand responds to drug use. These include our Needle Exchange Programme, provision of opioid substitution therapy and a joint health and Police pilot initiative in Northland which offers health referrals rather than sanctions for methamphetamine use.
The Drug Foundation’s State of the Nation report is compiled from publicly available sources, including Ministry of Health databases, and data obtained from government released under the Official Information Act.
“This time around there is only so much we can say because New Zealand actually doesn’t do a great job of tracking illicit drug use, or the harm it causes to individuals and in communities,” Kali Mercier said.
“We hope that in the lead up to the cannabis referendum, the Government will be looking at gathering and publishing much more robust data on all drugs to inform the many decisions they’ll need to make if legalisation goes ahead.”
Download the full report: nzdrug.org/SOTN-2018