The Government is responding to increased drug-related deaths by cracking down on the suppliers of synthetic drugs while making it easier for those with addiction problems to get treatment, Health Minister Dr David Clark and Police Minister Stuart Nash have announced.
“Under current laws synthetics and other dangerous drugs are killing people and fuelling crime while dealers and manufacturers get rich. The current approach is failing to keep Kiwis safe and can’t be continued,” David Clark said.
“It’s time to do what will work. We need to go harder on the manufactures of dangerous drugs like synthetics, and treat the use of drugs as a health issue by removing barriers to people seeking help.”
The Government has today announced a suite of measures to tackle synthetic drugs, the culmination of work initiated by then Acting Prime Minister, Winston Peters, in late July. The measures include:
• Classifying as Class A the main two synthetic drugs (5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA) that have been linked to recent deaths. This will give police the search and seizure powers they need crackdown on suppliers and manufacturers, who will also face tougher penalties – up to life imprisonment.
• Creating a temporary drug classification category, C1, so new drugs can easily be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act, giving police the search and seizure powers needed to interrupt supply – an important part of a health response.
• Amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to specify in law that Police should use their discretion and not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution. This will apply to the use of all illegal drugs, so there is no perverse incentive created encouraging people to switch to a particular drug.
• Allocate $16.6 million to boost community addiction treatment services, and provide communities with the support to provide emergency “surge” responses, when there is a spate of overdoses or deaths, for example.
“To be clear, this is not the full decriminalisation of drugs recommended by the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry. These are immediate steps we can take in response to the challenge we face with synthetics. We are considering the Inquiry’s recommendations separately,” Dr Clark said.
Police targeting dealers
Police Minister Stuart Nash says frontline Police are targeting dealers and suppliers with an increased focus on organised crime and trans-national crime as a result of extra resourcing in Budget 2018.
“Misuse of drugs remains illegal and people should not be complacent about the risks of getting caught. Whether a drug user ends up getting Police diversion, goes through an alternative resolution process, or is referred for health treatment, they will still come to the notice of Police,” Stuart Nash said.
“However Police currently use their discretion when it comes to drug users who are suffering from addiction or mental health problems.
“Prosecutions for possession are decided on a case by case basis and follow prosecution guidelines from Crown Law. Fifty-two people were imprisoned for drug possession or use during 2017/18.
“I expect Police will continue to prosecute people for possession when appropriate under the guidelines announced today. It is not a black and white exercise to distinguish between users and dealers. Factors include the seriousness of the offence, if there are victims, if safety of others is at risk from the drug use, if there is public disorder, and if the evidence is sufficient to justify a prosecution.
“We are striking a balance between discouraging drug use and recognising that many people using drugs need support from the health system, or education about harm reduction. We don’t want our jails full of people with addiction problems, we want those people getting treatment,” Stuart Nash said.
More support for treatment services, community responses
David Clark says the Government is allocating an additional $16.6 million to bolster addiction treatment services.
A total of $8.6 million has been set aside for an Acute Drug Harm Response Discretionary Fund over four years, and will be available immediately. The fund will:
• Help communities respond to acute issues such as a surge in overdoses or deaths
• Help people make lasting change to their lives to tackle issues that might be driving their use of drugs, such as homelessness
Up to a further $8-million (over two years, $4.6 in 2018/19 and $3.4-million in 2019/20) will be used from the proceeds of crime to:
• Establish a Drug Early Warning System to provide intelligence and data to support the discretionary fund
• Develop and deliver ‘Addiction 101’ training in communities experiencing harm from synthetic drugs
• Fund other Ministry of Health drug and alcohol initiatives
“There’s no question that more investment in addiction services will be required over time, but the changes we are announcing today clearly demonstrate this Government’s focus on harm reduction and supporting people to live healthier lives,” Dr Clark said.