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           Home >  Community  > Politics  :

Minister speaks about the National Drug Policy

The Hon Jim Anderton - 09/06/06

On 31 May 2006 the Hon Jim Anderton addressed the Drug Foundation 2nd Annual Policy Roundtable Conference.

We are publishing the full text as the Minister who is responsible for the implementation of the New Zealand National Drug Policy discusses important aspects of the policy, progress in implementing it and future initiatives.

The speech
I would like to thank the New Zealand Drug Foundation for inviting me to speak at this Second Annual Policy Roundtable on Drugs and Young People. This roundtable follows on from the 5th International Conference on Drugs and Young People in Sydney held last week and we are very fortunate to have some of the speakers at that conference here with us today.

As Minister responsible for this government’s illicit drug policy and Chair of the Ministerial Committee on Drugs I am involved in overseeing the implementation of the National Drug Policy. The National Drug Policy is a whole-of-government approach to addressing the harm resulting from tobacco, alcohol, and illicit and other drug use. Central to the Policy is the concept of preventing and minimising harm from drugs.

Under the current National Drug Policy released in July 1998, there have been some significant achievements such as:
The establishment of a National Drug Policy Discretionary Fund to provide funding for cross-government drug policy projects that fall outside individual departments’ key spending priority areas: eg research into cannabis use and its health, social and economic effects, BZP and party pills;
Tobacco has been banned from workplaces, restaurants and bars;
A culture change campaign around binge drinking is underway;
22 Community Action Youth and Drugs programmes or CAYADs which involve partnership with communities and aim to address the harm from drugs experienced by young people have been established with 3 more scheduled to be established this year;
A free ‘one-for-one’ needle exchange has been introduced – as an important preventive health measure;
'P' has been classified as a Class A drug,
More treatment facilities for adolescent drug users have been put in place.

The new draft National Drugs Policy (to be ratified this year) reflects those and other achievements by building on and updating the national drug policy rather than completely rewriting it. It aims for an even broader intersectoral focus than the first, with more emphasis on social and economic as well as health harms from tobacco, alcohol and other drug use. It also makes clear that harm minimisation includes both prevention and harm reduction. The common goal in the draft National Drug Policy is to prevent and reduce the health, social and economic harms linked to drug use using three broad strategies.

  1. Reducing supply
  2. Reducing demand
  3. Treating drug users in order to limit the problems.

Public consultation is underway and submissions on the draft policy are welcome. Submissions close on June 9.

The consultation process recognises that any national drug policy that is going to work well, needs input from those working in the sector as well as from those individuals, families, and communities affected by drug abuse.

Over the past two years I have chaired a series of public forums on 'P', alcohol and other drugs up and down the country and have heard first hand the fear of communities for their young people. With me was a panel of experts representing various government agencies. To me these forums were a symbol of hope. A symbol of individual communities recognising an issue we all have to deal with. And most importantly, they showed that communities themselves are willing to take responsibility to find solutions.

We all know addiction in one form or another affects every corner of life, without discrimination, from parliament to prisons, from homes to workplaces, across races, ages, regions and time. We also know the staggering costs of addiction. There are the financial costs of billions of dollars a year in treatment, lost production damage and other social and economic losses. There are social and human costs too, which matter even more. No one who deals with addiction issues personally or professionally can be complacent.

There is no doubt that the worst drugs in terms of cost to our young are the legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol. Four thousand seven hundred (4700) New Zealanders die each year from smoking tobacco. Alcohol is implicated in around 90 percent of all violent criminal offending in New Zealand. Methamphetamine, cannabis, party pills and the myriad of other drugs available, pose various degrees of danger and risk of harm, but tobacco first and then alcohol are the main culprits when you look at the numbers.

So are we making any headway with these drugs?

With tobacco, yes. We are starting to make it happen with prevalence rates for teenage smoking heading in the right direction. Latest figures show that 16.8 percent of Year 10 (14 year old) New Zealand teenagers said they were smokers in 2005, down from 28.6 percent in 1999. The ratio of teenagers who have never-smoked increased from 31.6 percent in 1999 to 49.4 percent in 2005. This means almost half of all 14 year olds have never had even one puff of a cigarette.

Today is World Smoke Free Day and it took over a decade of smoke-free days, increases in excise taxes and price increases, education, health warnings, stronger regulation, and public support to get this sort of result. But its happening now and I believe it can happen with alcohol as well if similar strategies are taken. How about we aim for an alcohol-free day to recognize the associated violence that evidence shows occurs as a result of the misuse of alcohol.

Young people in New Zealandcommonly begin drinking alcohol between the ages of 15 to 18 and there is a strong culture of binge drinking amongst youth, as there is amongst far too many adult New Zealanders. In one survey, 70 percent of people aged 12-17 reported that getting hold of alcohol was not a problem, and one-in-three make no attempt to limit their drinking. Younger age groups experience more acute alcohol-related harms such as drink-driving injuries, and teenagers who drink heavily can be affected by impaired brain development.

This government has raised the excise on so-called light spirits (23% alcohol by volume), initiated a review of alcohol advertising, and supports the advertising campaign to change the culture of drinking in New Zealand. An application to Food Standards Australia/ New Zealand has also been made to require all alcoholic beverages to be clearly labelled with warnings on the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.

Local Councils are being encouraged by Police and the public to consider curtailing liquor-licensing hours as well as implementing local liquor bans and some innovative measures are being trialled like the club lockout in Christchurch which saw people who left a bar after 1am on Friday not allowed back in despite a 3am closing.

A parliamentary select committee is currently considering a member’s bill to raise the purchasing age of alcohol from 18 back to 20 years. That bill is to be reported back to Parliament in September which means all parliamentarians will have the opportunity to debate and vote on a measure, which I believe the evidence supports. Parliament made a mistake in lowering the drinking age and it will now have a chance to rectify it.

Youth binge drinking is not just a New Zealand problem, other countries are grappling with it as well. In Scotland, legislation was recently introduced to stop irresponsible drinking promotions in licensed bars like, “buy one and get one free” or '$2 double spirit nights' aimed at youth. This type of pricing often leads to excessive drinking, such as ordering 4 glasses at a time, and can and does result in tragedy.

So there are many steps being taken here and internationally. I realize for some, these steps may seem too small, too slow, and too conservative but just look at what has been achieved with tobacco, and take heart.

And it is conferences like these, and the research being undertaken by many of you here, that are vital for continuing evidence based action in the area of alcohol policy. The bottom line is that we all want to see youth drinking statistics go down and to see a change in the “high-risk” drinking culture in New Zealand – a culture that accepts drunkenness and binge drinking as the social norm. We all have a responsibility to play our part. Individuals and communities can and do make a difference.

We have seen this with methamphetamine. Various communities have announced a rahui or a ban on using or dealing in pure methamphetamine. This was due to an acknowledgement of the undercurrent of violence and criminal activity associated with it in the community. Methamphetamine in its various forms has established a market in New Zealand; there is no doubt about that.

This can be seen in the large increase in Customs’ seizures of imported crystal methamphetamine since 2003, and the many more clandestine lab busts by Police. This drug does indeed need to be shunned by communities and by users, given its dangerous risks and long-term effects.

The Illicit Drug Monitoring Survey taken last year noted that regular drug users recognised the level of danger methamphetamine poses and were aware of the health risks. Only time will tell if that understanding translates into being turned off the drug. Meanwhile, the government is following up the legislation passed last year increasing enforcement powers around “P” with legislation aimed at strengthening the ability to seize the assets of organized drug crime.

I know some of you here believe the market for methamphetamine has reached its peak and is levelling off in New Zealand. My hope is that you are right. But to reduce this demand, education of the dangers associated with this drug is of primary importance.

This education is happening in a variety of ways. To the public by way of pamphlets, websites and youth community programmes. To schools through resources and workshops guiding teachers in delivering drug education or choosing a good provider of drug education.

Another message that I would like to see getting through to youth is that regular cannabis use does cause harm and for some it is significant harm. Recent survey results show that levels of cannabis use were highest in the 15-24 year old age group, ranging from 26 percent of 15-17 year olds to almost 36 percent of 20-24 year olds using cannabis last year. The body of evidence I have seen, on prevalence and harm, does not, in my view, lend itself to a change in the legal status of cannabis. I believe we must continue to take a precautionary approach to this drug.

So-called “party pills” are also becoming popular but unlike cannabis there has been very little research around the substances in these products. This is about to change with some initial research on party pills due to be completed next month and further results due later this year.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing issues that I have had to deal with in this portfolio is the continuing presence of volatile substance abuse. The level of this type of abuse is down since its heyday but it’s hard to celebrate that fact when you read a coroners report on six deaths of young New Zealanders from volatile substance abuse, as I did last year. The Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy is meeting with a representative of the retailers association at its next meeting in June to discuss possible ways that we can lower the statistics even further in this area.

The committee I chair is a very active one, but as we all know community safety from alcohol and other drugs is not only an issue for the government or for police and other authorities or agencies – though they have important roles. It is also an issue for each community to take responsibility for itself. It’s no good just hoping someone else will fix the problem; we all have our part to play.

For my part I accept Ministerial leadership is required and will continue to provide it. I know those of you here today are also playing your part in various valuable ways and I thank you for your expertise and commitment – and wish you well in your endeavours.

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