Govt must expand drug harm reduction initiatives nationwide

Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand

The Green Party is calling on the Government to roll out the successful drug harm reduction programme Te Ara Oranga nationwide, going further than the Eastern Bay of Plenty extension announced today.

“The results speak for themselves, and the evidence is clear: if we want to tackle drug harm, we need to fund the health, housing, and community services that address the very problems which drive people into substance addiction and abuse in the first place. Te Ara Oranga, the collaboration between Northland DHB and Police, has proven it can do this for several years now,” Green Party Drug Reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick said today.

“There’s no reason for the Government to stop at the Eastern Bay of Plenty with the expansion of this ground-breaking support. In the grip of the synthetics crisis brought about by political rhetoric and evidentially-hollow, knee-jerk laws, the Greens called for its extension across the country back in 2018.

Te Ara Oranga is a methamphetamine harm reduction initiative that was launched in Northland in October 2017. Ever since it became clear that the initiative was successful at reducing harm, the Green Party has called for its expansion. Today the Government followed the Greens’ lead and announced that Te Ara Oranga would be expanded to Eastern Bay of Plenty.

“It’s noteworthy that this announcement of funding comes alongside the initial review of ‘police discretion’ Misuse of Drugs Act changes, which the Greens pushed long and hard for in the last Parliamentary term. That reform did not fix a fundamentally unfit frankenstein of a law, but reflected the best possible political consensus at the time.

“The data shows us whenever ‘discretion’ is left in the mix, there will be discrimination. That’s precisely why the Government’s own commissioned advice in He Ara Oranga (the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry) and Turuki! Turuki! (the Safe and Effective Justice Review) called for removal of criminal penalties from users to ensure they just got the basic support and treatment they may need.

“Last year’s cannabis referendum debate left many of the ‘war on drugs’ proponents unable to defend a status quo of sending drug users to prison. It was the National Government who funded Te Ara Oranga in the first place. There’s no reason in evidence, compassion nor schoolyard politics to not extend this Te Ara Oranga nation-wide and overhaul the ghastly Misuse of Drugs Act that has overseen the rise of drug harm.

“As we watch COVID magnify inequities, as we’ve seen an evidence-based public health approach as the best possible way to reduce harm among our communities, it’s time to extend the logic. Responses to drug harm can and must be evidence-based.

“Throw out the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, put some evidence in place, and fund proven community-led responses as a matter of urgency.”

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