This morning Health Minister Dr David Clark and Police Minister Stuart Nash announced a range of measures to tackle the synthetics crisis which has seen appalling harm across our communities, with a particularly serious impact on Māori.
The measures include major amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act, a new $8.6 million fund to address acute drug harm responses, and a long term commitment to boosting addictions treatment services in the community.
The most significant of the changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act is the specification that police should use their discretion and not prosecute people who have been caught using, or in the possession of, illegal drugs in the instances where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial. This applies to all illegal drugs, not just synthetics.
"This will be huge for Māori," says Selah Hart, Chief Operations Manager of Hāpai Te Hauora. "Our people have suffered disproportionately under an antiquated approach to drug use in Aotearoa which has seen people who use drugs treated as criminals and not as people who have a right to health care and treatment."
"Much of the opportunity to turn this around will rely on the police and their ability to move their organisation from one which has been guilty of perpetuating institutionalised racism against Māori in the past, to one which is capable of enacting these changes without bias."
Hart continues "We will look forward to receiving more detail on exactly how these changes will roll out, and will hope to see Māori involvement at the decision-making table in order to ensure equity is achieved. But for now, we throw our support behind this announcement which demonstrates a practical commitment underlying the Government’s kōrero around putting compassion into drug policy."
The $8.6 million Acute Drug Harm Response Fund is intended to cover the increase in demand for services that is anticipated under the changes in policing initiated by the amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Other changes include:
- Applying the Class A classification to the two main synthetic drugs which have been linked to recent deaths.
- Creating a temporary drug classification category which will allow new and emerging drugs to be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act. This is intended to allow police greater ability to act to interrupt supply.