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HOW THE EXISTING POLICY STARTED AND HOW IT WORKS
New Zealand Government’s drug policy was enclosed in the National Drug Policy 2007 – 2012. This policy was first approved in 1998 to give direction for drug policy in Aoteoroa New Zealand as a whole. Within the framework provided by this policy, local government, non- government agencies and organizations that are part of the drug and alcohol sector developed their respective programs and set priorities. The National Drug Policy admits that drug use is mainly a health issue; therefore it should be addressed through health- based actions. New Zealand Drug policy was also created based on the principle of harm minimization. The main goal of NDP is to minimize the economic, social and health harms due to misuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
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In addition, the update of the National Drug Policy was built on the existing method (the three pillars) adapted by the government such as reducing demand, helping people with drug and alcohol problems and controlling drug supply. Significantly, the drug policy will also allow a larger support which will be given to the families and communities of those who misuse drugs as well as for children affected by alcohol and drugs living in households (Ministry of Health, 2013).
ALCOHOL AND DRUG USE IN AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND
Existing research shows that drug use is high in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to other countries, predominantly for amphetamine, new psychoactive substances and cannabis. Alcohol is also considered by far the most significant leisure drug in New Zealand, when it comes to widespread use and misuse. Recent surveys shows that 95% of adult New Zealanders (aged 16- 64 years) also outlined drug related harm, drug use and had consumed alcohol at some point of their lifetime. This includes recreational drug use aside from tobacco and alcohol, together with prohibited drugs and drugs that are used for illegal purposes like diverted pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, almost half or 49% of all respondents had used any drugs for recreational purposes at some stage of their lives, roughly 1,292,700 people (Ministry of Health, 2010).
The New Zealand government has responded to these issues of drug use by presenting different approaches that attempt to diminish drug use and other drug related harms. The first National Drug Policy in New Zealand covered the period 1998- 2003, since then it continuously provides guidance for the governments’ activities through to 2006. During that time, the National Drug Policy in collaboration with other government agencies and the Ministry of Health, reviewed the existing program until, the second National Drug Policy was implemented comprising the period 2007- 2012.
OBJECTIVES AND THREE PILLARS OF THE NATIONAL DRUG POLICY
New Zealand’s National Drug Policy presents Governments’ policy and legislative aims for alcohol, tobacco and prohibited drugs. The policy was built on the value of harm minimisation which covers a broad and combined approach to minimising the impairment or injuries caused by drug use comprising of the three ‘pillars’. First is the Supply control that aims to regulate and limit the availability of drugs. Second is the demand reduction, which involves a wide variety of activities that will restrict the use of drugs of individuals, which also includes abstinence. Lastly, the problem limitation which will reduce the harm that arises from existing drug use.
The National Drug Policy makers believe that there is a wide range of harm linked with how drugs are being use and that there is no single strategy or tactic that can address the problems instead, a continuum plans are needed. This will require an improvement of a particular plan that is not just receptive, but also culturally suitable in addressing the necessities of Maori, Young and Pacific people provided the over representation of these groups in terms of many drug related problems
THE POLICY MAKERS AND INTEREST GROUPS THEY REPRESENT
The Minister of Health and the Chair of the Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy (MCDP) (National Drug Policy, 2007) in collaboration with other Ministerial colleagues, The (IACD) or Inter- Agency Committee on drugs and Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD) are the policy makers of NDP.
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As mentioned above, there is a wide range of issues concerning drug and alcohol usage in New Zealand. The NDP is one way of ensuring that these organizations that are involved in these issues take constant action in addressing them. In the past and even today, NDP primarily focuses or represents specific groups such as Maori, Pacific People and Young New Zealanders. Migrants in New Zealand are also considered as contributory factor because every community group has its own habits, attitudes and beliefs that can be very different from those of New Zealand’s culture and mainstream society. (Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy, 2007)
BEHIND THE POLICY, STRATEGIES AND ACHEIVEMENTS
The Ministry of Health, in association with other government and non-government organizations have their respective role on how to reduce and prevent harm caused by alcohol and other drugs. The NDP brings these diverse range of people, different agencies and stakeholders to work in partnership to be able to develop interventions, mechanism and right approach for the development of the policy.
The publication of the first National Drug Policy in 1998, was also the release of several other significant national alcohol and drug policies, plans and strategies over the past years, such as National Strategic Framework for Alcohol and Drug Services in 2001, The National Alcohol Strategy in 2001 (NAS), Action Plan on Methamphetamines in 2003, The Action Plan on Alcohol and Illicit Drugs in 2004, In 2005 the Te Tahuhu (Mental Health and Addiction Plan), The Te Kokiri (Mental Health and Addiction Action Plan) in 2006 and the release of the second National Drug Policy in 2007 ( Ann Flintoft, 2008).
Since the release of the first NDP there have been several significant achievements as well, these includes, the founding of the National Drug Policy Discretionary Grant Fund in 2004 which provides pool of funding research for latest projects to fill up gaps in all drug policy work. Aiming to provide funding for high cross- departmental projects, for a quick response to changes in current and developing drug trends. Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) with the primary objective of promotion and encouragement of moderation in the liquor use, reduction and discouragement of the misuse of liquor and minimization of the economic, social and personal harm that emanated from misuse of liquor, with the aim of change for all New Zealanders drinking culture. Community Action on Youth and Drugs (CAYAD) is a national project which involves partnership with communities, aiming to decrease harm to young people/ families/whanau from illegal drugs and alcohol. Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act 2003, an amendment from the Smoke-free Environment Act of 1990, banned tobacco from buildings, school grounds, even licensed premises such as bars, sports clubs, cafes, restaurants and other workplaces became smoke-free indoors. Restrictions to the displays of tobacco products in retail outlets and further restrictions of access for those under age 18, herbal smoking products also has been banned under this act (Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy, 2007).
KEEPING WHAT WORKS AND MAKING IT BETTER, TOWARDS A NEW DIRECTION
We commend the Ministry of Health and all the policy makers of the NDP on their robust focus on reducing inequalities in the recent NDP. We believe that addressing the social determinants of health and reducing harm should continue to be the main principle of the National Drug Policy. We also applaud their past and recent achievements and support their plans by building on and just updating the policy from the previous NDP rather than changing it.
In the previous policy, it focuses on interventions for those who are alcohol and drug users. It cannot be denied that this has been important for alcohol and drug user prevention with good effect for the broader community. However, we strongly believe that this policy can be updated for the better. We do believe that the existing policy is good, but it would be an advantage or would be better if the next National Drug Policy will expand or develop its definition of “harm” to give a greatly importance on the harm that other drugs and alcohol cause to the others aside from the users itself. The outdated National drug Policy focuses on prevention and reduction of harm between people who are alcohol and drug users. However, policy makers should also focus or give importance to communities, families and society that are greatly affected by the harm triggered by alcohol and drugs misuse, which can be in a form of ensuring that the involved groups (communities, families and society) are protected by the policy.
Furthermore, we also recommend that the new policy would focus more on the “outcomes” rather than just mentioning or educating people/society about certain substances and how to properly use these substances. The policy makers may talk or may emphasize about the ideal outcome for people and societies, such as aiming on reducing people’s access to cannabis and also try to decrease the number of young people being expelled from school because of drugs and alcohol violations. Lastly, we do support that the new policy uphold the principle of harm minimization and the three pillars of demand control, problem limitation and supply reduction. We believe that the existing structure is well aligned to what other countries do and guarantees that it is suitable for the purpose of reducing harm in New Zealand.
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