Community Scoop

Peter Dunne: Opening Address to CAYAD National Hui

Speech – New Zealand Government

I am very pleased to be here with you today to open the Community Action Youth and Drugs 2012 National Hui.

Hon Peter Dunne

Associate Minister of Health

Opening Address to CAYAD National Hui

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Te Papa, Wellington

I am very pleased to be here with you today to open the Community Action Youth and Drugs 2012 National Hui.

Let me begin by acknowledging that the work you do is greatly appreciated.

You are very much our front-line troops, so I thought I should take some time this morning to set the scene a little in terms of what is happening with drug policy.

New regime for psychoactive substances

Dealing with new psychoactive substances – the so-called legal highs – is a challenge facing governments all over the world.

Advances in computer-assisted drug discovery have resulted in a proliferation of these substances.

New drugs become available at an incredible rate, and they are introduced and sold in a regulatory hole.

At the moment, it is easier to market a completely novel substance – the harm profile of which may be a complete mystery – than it is to introduce, say, a new food additive or a medicine.

That is quite simply ridiculous, and cannot be tolerated, but I am delighted to say that we are doing something about that.

These drugs are distributed over the counter and in the grey and black markets.

Corner dairies sold many variants of synthetic cannabis, and some people have actually found email spam sufficiently enticing to hand over credit card details for party pills.

Lawmakers internationally have struggled to keep up.

Our own Misuse of Drugs Act is nearly forty years old now, and it was never designed for such a fast-moving environment.

As soon as substances are taken off the market, new ones emerge.

So, the Government is in the frustrating position of having to play cat and mouse.

To deal with the immediate problem, we passed an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act in August last year that has allowed me to issue temporary bans on substances for twelve months.

I have done this for 27 kinds of synthetic cannabis now, and for one stimulant party pill.

In all, that has taken more than 50 products off the market. But this is only a holding measure and was only ever designed to be that.

As you will be aware, the Government is working on an enduring regulatory regime that will put a stop to the game of cat and mouse once and for all when it is in place by the middle of next year.

The centrepiece of the new regime is reversing the onus of proof.

Instead of psychoactive substances being legal – and totally unregulated – until they are banned, all such legal highs will be illegal unless approved by a regulator.

Manufacturers and importers will have a legal pathway for their products to come to market.

But they will have to prove that their products are as safe as it is possible for psychoactive substances to be.

This means they will have to get their products tested against a consistent set of safety criteria.

And it is going to cost money and that burden will be upon them – as it should be – and not the taxpayer.

Whether or not they go ahead with it will be – again as it should be – a commercial decision where they need to factor the cost of testing and verifying their products into the decision to bring a product to market.

Just as any other manufacturer of any other product has to do already.

If their product is considered by the regulator to have a low risk of harm, it will be legal to sell, subject to a tight range of licensing conditions.

The days of these products being available in corner dairies will be over.

We will not allow them to be sold where kids buy their ice creams anymore.

Again, it should never have been the case.

All products not approved will be illegal. This means the Government does not have to specifically ban thousands of substances with unknown risk profiles as they emerge.

I expect that the testing required will be quite expensive.

We are talking about a $1 million to $2 million ball park here.

That is appropriate.

The secretive fly-by-night importers – cowboys, really – will have no place in the market.

If that is how they operate, are they really the kind of people who are responsible enough to be selling such products to our young people?

I will introduce the legislation to usher in the new regime before Christmas and, as I say, it will be passed into law by around the middle of next year.

Review of National Drug Policy

Another important reality is that the National Drug Policy expires this year.

I have asked the Ministry of Health to lead a review of the policy with an eye to renewal.

As you will be aware, the policy is based on the principle of harm minimisation and built on three pillars:

• supply control – measures that control or limit the availability of drugs

• demand reduction – measures that seek to limit the use of drugs by individuals, including abstinence; and

• problem limitation – measures that reduce the harm that arises from existing drug use.

I view the harm minimisation principle and the existing pillars as being basically sound.

The review of the National Drug Policy is a good opportunity to look at how the different parts of the government work to together to reduce the harm that drugs cause in our society.

Drugs are not a problem that can be solved by any one government department: Police, Customs, the courts, health and social welfare officials all have a part to play, but so too do non-governments organisations and a range of community groups.

Of particular relevance, will be the recommendations contained in the Law Commission’s report last year.

It is important that everyone involved acts in a co-ordinated way.

The Ministry of Health will lead the review, working in conjunction with other government agencies.

The objective is to ensure the new policy is fit for purpose and that resources employed under its guidance are based on good evidence, are cost effective, and are allocated where they will achieve the best results.

The plan is to have a draft policy ready for consultation by March next year and for the new policy to be in place later in the year.

Ensuring the appropriate services are always available to people who need them is always a major challenge.

We face, along with governments all around the world, another challenge: financial sustainability.

The great financial crisis of 2008 and the global recession it caused still have a major impact on everything the government does.

Finances are tight, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Although it might be hard to believe from your perspective, health services in New Zealand have to a large extent been insulated from the effects of the global recession.

We have not seen, for instance, the extremely deep cuts to service funding that governments in places like the United Kingdom and Ireland have made.

This is because the Government has made a very conscious effort to put a very high priority on health services.

The Health portion of the Budget has increased every year since the financial crisis – and this is largely money that has had to be found from elsewhere.

That also obliges all of us to make sure that we are more careful than ever to make sure we are using health dollars wisely: we simply must focus what resources we have available only on those interventions that have good evidence of effectiveness and value for money.

This is something that can only be achieved if services are delivered in a closely co-ordinated way, and the National Drug Policy will provide ongoing guidance to the government and to the sector on how this can be achieved.

Methamphetamine action plan

I think the Methamphetamine Action Plan is a good example of the pillars of the Plan being put into action.

And we are starting to see good results from it.

The Plan was initiated by the Prime Minister in 2009.

So, we have had three years of a strong focus coupled with a co-ordinated cross-government approach to combating the harms associated with this nasty drug.

Tackling methamphetamine was never going to be easy and a continuous effort is required as there is still much to do.

However, the Government believes good inroads are being made in tackling the methamphetamine problem. For example:

• significant enforcement efforts by Customs and Police have made it harder for the importers, manufacturers and suppliers of methamphetamine and its precursors

• Fewer people are interested in using methamphetamine, with less than 1 percent of the adult population now reporting using it in the last 12 months; this compares with more than 2 percent in 2008

• We have now a market characterised by heavy or entrenched use by a declining, but still significant, number of users. This group is being targeted for admission to treatment services by the health and criminal justice systems. The Government has committed additional detox services and treatment beds and these are receiving a strong take up.

I am also aware of the good work by the Auckland CAYADs in co-ordinating the Auckland Regional Methamphetamine Plan.

One feature of the plan is that it does not just involve one government department.

The harm caused by methamphetamine abuse, and community concern about it, was not something that could be tackled in an isolated way.

In closing, I would again like to acknowledge the CAYAD workers in this room, too, for their contribution to the Methamphetamine Action Plan in addressing methamphetamine related issues in their local areas.

And I would like to wish you all a particularly successful hui.

You do important work and you do it well.


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