Good afternoon and welcome to the launch of the new National Drug Policy.
I am very pleased to be here with you all today, and it is great to see so many familiar faces in the audience.
Today’s announcement is the culmination of what has been a lengthy process.
Many of you or your organisations are among the 120 individuals and organisations who submitted on the discussion document. Some of you are also signatories to the Wellington Declaration on reshaping New Zealand’s alcohol and other drug policy.
Thank you for your input – it has shaped this Policy, and your ongoing involvement will give life to the Policy and its actions.
A National Drug Policy cannot be contained within just one government portfolio.
This policy reflects a cross-government commitment, and I would therefore like to acknowledge my Ministerial colleagues whose portfolios will also contribute to achieving its vision.
This includes the Ministers of Health, Justice, Education, Social Development, Police, Corrections and Customs.
I would particularly like to acknowledge the Chair of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, Tuari Potiki, and Executive Director Ross Bell. The Foundation has been a long-time advocate of reducing drug harm in New Zealand and has been a valuable source of feedback in the Policy’s development.
Finally, I would like to thank the officials who have overseen the development of the Policy and ensured it reflects a coordinated cross-government approach.
The development of such a significant piece of work, particularly on what can be a challenging issue, is quite an undertaking and brings with it certain challenges – so I thank all involved for their patience and perseverance.
Compassion. Innovation. Proportion.
Three words that I consider to be of the utmost importance when developing drug policy, and three words that are reflected in the contents of this new Policy.
Alcohol and other drug issues are above all health issues, and this Policy recognises that. Alcohol and other drugs have the potential to cause significant harm when misused. About 12% of New Zealanders will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.
The social cost of alcohol and other drugs is significant.
I’ve been working in the drug policy space for some time, and as we all know there is no quick fix. Help needs to be available for those who need it, interventions need to happen early and the stigma that acts as a barrier to help seeking and recovery needs to be addressed.
We also have to be prepared to challenge traditional approaches and ways of thinking about these issues. Innovation is essential in a world where a new psychoactive drug is discovered every week and the black market has gone digital.
But we are making progress.
The psychoactive substances regime was introduced because existing legislation could not keep up with the array of new substances. Mechanisms are now in place for substances proven as low risk to be legitimately sold, and all others have been removed from retail sale.
New Zealand was recognised around the world for this bold and innovative piece of law.
Through the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, the Government has tightened the rules on the sale of alcohol and put more control in the hands of local communities.
We have also reduced the blood-alcohol limit for driving and increased alcohol screening and brief interventions in primary care. These measures are working: the number of people who drink hazardously has decreased from 18 per cent to 16 per cent over the last several years.
We have made extraordinary progress on reducing the rates of smoking, but tobacco remains the biggest preventable cause of death. It requires an approach commensurate with the magnitude of the problem.
As a result the Government is developing a separate tobacco control plan which will sit alongside the National Drug Policy. The new National Drug Policy seeks to build on this progress by carrying over fundamental principles of the previous policy while also providing a clear focus for improvement over the next five years.
The Policy’s overarching goal remains to minimise the harm from alcohol and drug use.
This has been expanded to also include the promotion of health and wellbeing.
This takes a more holistic view of harm minimisation and is more inclusive of families, whānau and communities.
This will help us strive towards the wider social sector goals of reducing welfare dependency, supporting vulnerable children, boosting skills and employment, and reducing crime. The Policy carries over the same three strategies in order to achieve this: problem limitation, demand reduction and supply control.
But unlike the previous Policy, it focuses on five new Priority Areas in order to guide action.
- 1creating a people-centred intervention system
- 2shifting thinking and behaviour
- 3getting the legal balance right
- 4disrupting organised crime
- 5improving information flow.
First, our system for dealing with alcohol and drugs must be people-centred.
We need to make sure that services are better joined up so that ‘no door is the wrong door’.
Interventions need to be tailored to different populations and needs. In order to do this, we will develop a map of potential intervention points across a person’s life course, and create common tools to foster system change.
Services need to respond to people as early, efficiently and effectively as possible to achieve the best outcomes. Second, the Policy aims to shift people’s thinking and behaviour about alcohol and drugs.
We need to build new ways of thinking about alcohol and drugs, particularly around New Zealand’s drinking culture. We also need to encourage people to seek help, and make the right support available at the right time.
Change in this area will require a sustained effort over a long period of time. But it is achievable.
Third, the Policy emphasises the need to get the legal balance right.
This responds to the recommendations made by the Law Commission in their 2011 review of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The laws we make need to be reasonable, and it is crucial that our enforcement response is proportionate. We want to make sure that drug use is deterred where possible, but also that the laws are actually working for individuals, communities and society.
We are trying to minimise harm, not create more. The Law Commission recommended that we repeal the Act and replace it with a whole new one.
We thought carefully about this recommendation. But we have now decided that a complete revision of the Act is not required at this time.
Instead we want to dig deeper.
We want to understand how the legislation is operating on the ground. Is the legislation allowing appropriate access to controlled drugs for medical reasons, while protecting communities from their misuse?
Does it allow Police to make appropriate decisions to stop drug harm?
The Act only sets the boundaries for us to work within. We can still make changes within that.
So a number of actions in the new Policy respond explicitly to the Law Commission recommendations. The Ministry of Health will work with the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs to make sure that drug classification decisions are focused on harm.
They will also commence work to examine whether the laws and enforcement around drug possession and utensil possession are still reasonable compared to the severity of these offences.
We have already made progress in reviewing how controlled drugs are used for legitimate purposes. This has identified the need to examine labelling and packaging requirements as part of the new Therapeutic Products regime.
The review did not recommend any changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act itself.
But it has identified a need to review of the Misuse of Drugs regulations in order to ensure that they are fit for purpose for current medical and pharmacy practice.
We will also re-examine the prescribing process for Sativex, New Zealand’s only approved medicinal cannabis product. When we have made progress in all of these areas, I believe that we will be in a better place to consider what a new Misuse of Drugs Act might look like.
The Policy’s fourth Priority Area is to disrupt organised crime.
We need a multiagency approach in order to break supply chains and disrupt the ability of criminal groups to sell illegal drugs. It is important that our efforts are as innovative as those of the criminals we are trying to catch.
Finally, the Policy aims to improve the way the government uses information.
This is vital if we are going to anticipate and respond to alcohol and drug issues effectively.
Greater availability of information is also crucial for people and communities to make better decisions about alcohol and drugs. The five Priority Areas will ensure that the Policy focuses on the things that matter.
But they are not the only way that this Policy improves upon its predecessor.
Another key difference with the new Policy is that it contains far more robust accountability mechanisms. This will allow us to actually track the progress we are making, and I have required government agencies to report annually to Cabinet on their progress.
Because making promises is not enough.
We need to make sure we keep them. This new accountability system will do that. The action plan contained in the Policy runs for only two years. This was a deliberate choice.
Some of these actions have never been tried in New Zealand, so we need to feel our way forward.
At the end of the two years there will be a chance for us to take stock and listen to input from the sector.
We can decide which actions to keep going with and also to incorporate new ideas. We may even need to respond to issues which haven’t even emerged yet. I have no doubt that Ross will be knocking on my door with some items he would like to see added.
Overall, this is a Policy I am very pleased with. I think all of New Zealand can be pleased with it as well. It places us on the forefront of policymaking and builds upon what we know has been working so far – without compromising our most important values.
Compassion. Innovation. Proportion.
The Policy does not shy away from the difficult issues and places people at its heart.
I am very proud to present it to you today.
Thank you all for being here, and for your continued support as we strive for a more compassionate, innovative and proportionate approach to alcohol and drugs in New Zealand.