More talk on ‘drug use is a health issue’ but where’s the action?

More talk but still a lack of action on drug abuse issues.

Minister of Police Stuart Nash talks some talk on addressing drug problems, but his Government is still failing to walk any meaningful walk on addressing urgent drug abuse issues.

RadioLive: Drug use should be treated ‘as a health issue’ – Stuart Nash

So why the fuck doesn’t the Government take urgent action to do that?

Police Minister Stuart Nash is refusing to say whether he’s for or against ending marijuana prohibition, but appears to be leaning in favour.

“I’m not going to give you a yes or no, because I want to see what this looks like,” he told host Duncan Garner.

“I’ll weigh up the benefits and I’ll vote accordingly.”

But as long as there are sufficient social services in place to deal with the harmful effects of marijuana, Mr Nash appears to be in favour of legalisation.

But the Government seems to be dragging the chain on this – they opposed Chloe Swarbrick’s bill, their own bill is limited to medicinal use of cannabis and they are not exactly rushing on that, and while greens got a promise of a referendum on cannabis law before or at the next election there is no sign of action there.

Drug abuse is already a major health and crime and prison issue. people continue to die, lives continue to be ruined, and all Nash does is parrot ‘drugs should be treated as a health issue’.

“I was incredibly proud of Jacinda Ardern not to sign up to Donald Trump’s new war on drugs,” he added. “We need to treat this as a health issue – the police are doing this, we’re doing this as a society.”

But nowhere enough, and nowhere near urgently enough.

He said the police are already using discretion not to criminalise drug users – even those consuming hard drugs.

“We refuse to treat every single addict out there as a criminal. This is a health issue. An example – Operation Daydream, this is going after the meth dealers and suppliers. Police did that, they rounded them up.

“After that they went to all the addicts and instead of putting them in front of a judge, as they have done in the past, they put them in front of social services to help these people. That’s the sort of society we need to create.”

One approach has had some success. Newsroom: Addiction courts save millions in prison costs

With more than 10,000 people behind bars and total prison costs expected to top $1 billion next year, politicians are desperate for ways to rein in the corrections system.

The problems sometimes seem intractable, the financial and human costs ever-increasing.

But far from the halls of power and policy summits, one approach being employed to stop people offending and going back to prison has had some real success.

Grounded in evidence and criminal justice research, the country’s two Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) courts are tasked with handling one of the toughest, and most costly, cohort of offenders: recidivist criminals.

There is a clear pattern in the lives of this cohort. They commit crimes, go to prison, get released, and then start the cycle again.

In the AODT courts, the offenders also have an added layer of complexity – their offending has been clinically assessed as driven by their alcohol and/or drug addiction.

The two Auckland-based pilot courts, set up nearly seven years ago, have shown interesting results.

Great. So why not have more of this?

In an interview with Newsroom, Justice Minister Andrew Little is positive about the AODT courts, but says any expansion will not occur before a final impact evaluation. This is due to be completed next year.

An interim-evaluation took place four years ago, and showed positive progress.

“I have a personal and principled commitment to seeing more of this, but there is a commitment to doing a more formal evaluation of the court,” he says.

“That is underway. Following that, [will be] the basis for making my bid for more resourcing to see more of them.”

Little also alludes to the challenges of pushing for long-term change.

“This is the whole question in the broader criminal justice system. Treasury kind of weighs it every time. There might be greater resources needed at the front-end, but if that means that is resulting in fewer people going to prison, and we are still reducing the reoffending rate significantly and materially, then … that is the right place to put the resources rather than at the far end when it is kind of too late.”

However, for those who understand the improved outcomes achieved through AODT courts, waiting for another evaluation is a tough ask. Feedback from the recent Justice Summit in Wellington included queries around when other parts of New Zealand would have access to AODT courts.

As drink driving researcher Gerald Waters puts it: “I’ve also looked at all offending in New Zealand – 80 percent of crime is alcohol and drug related. It’s obvious that you shouldn’t be having drug court once a week – you should be having it six days a week with one day for normal crime”.

Like may things under the current Government, after making a big deal with what the achieved in their first 100 days – mostly initiating things that would take more time – Andrew Little ‘says any expansion will not occur before a final impact evaluation. This is due to be completed next year.’

In the meantime, drug use will be in part treated as a health issue, but will remain a large criminal and prison issue until they get off their inquiry laden arses and take urgent and comprehensive action.

Jacinda Ardern has promoted her Government as progressive – it may be, but it seems to be snail’s pace progress on things she and he ministers have claimed to be in need of urgent attention. This is very disappointing.