An interim review of changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 (MoDA) shows more people found with illegal drugs are being diverted from the Court system and into health and other social supports, Health Minister, Andrew Little said today.
The 2019 amendments affirmed Police discretion over whether to prosecute for personal possession of drugs by taking a health-based approach. They also enabled temporary classification drug orders to be issued, and classified two synthetic cannabinoids as Class A substances.
“We recognise that some people who use drugs need help,” Minister Little said.
“These changes aimed to interrupt drug supply chains, and reduce drug-related harm to people, their whānau and communities – including additional harm from being involved in the criminal justice system.
“We can see that overall, fewer people are being prosecuted for personal possession and use of illegal drugs, particularly cannabis. This is despite availability of illegal drugs remaining steady.”
Health-based referrals to services like the Alcohol Drug Helpline were made during almost two thirds of all drug-related diversions, the review shows.
In 2018, 221 people were referred to addiction services through Alternative Pathways for Help Intervention (AWHI), a partnership between Police and local health and social supports.
In 2020, that number had increased to 433, and AWHI is currently under development for a national rollout.
“The interim review allowed us to see progress so far, but there is still work to do, particularly to ensure that outcomes are fairer for everyone,” Mr Little said.
“The review indicates that there is a disproportionately high number of Māori entering the justice system, but that everyone is being treated similarly once in the system.
“Any inequities in this system are simply unacceptable. Police are working with the University of Waikato to understand where bias may exist in the application of decision-making and use of discretion. The research will inform a work programme to reduce any bias identified.
“Currently, demand for mental health and addiction services is not being consistently met across the country. Responding to this is part of the broader health system reforms,” he said.
The Minister said Te Ara Oranga, a successful methamphetamine harm reduction initiative piloted in Northland, would be extended to the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
“The initiative takes an integrated approach across health, Police and the community, with a kaupapa Māori focus, to reduce drug-related harm and support better community health, social and justice outcomes, including improved wellbeing, re-engagement with whānau and employment, and a reduction in family violence and crime.”
“Te Ara Oranga has a strong record of harm reduction over the two years it has received Ministry of Health funding. Almost 1,600 people who use meth, and their whānau, have been supported so far,” Mr Little said.
The $2.8 million in further funding will enable Te Ara Oranga to expand and cover a geographical area from Whakatāne to Rotorua, and include Ōpōtiki, Kawerau, and Murupara.
A copy of the review can be found at here.