Nationals threat to halve benefits for Kiwis on drugs could result in people moving to harder drugs

By Ani-Oriwia Adds

NZ Drug Foundation and other addiction experts at this year’s Cutting Edge Addiction Conference say that National's latest announcement ignores the evidence of how to properly treat drug addiction.

National's new policy around drug testing sparks discussion amongst some of New Zealand's addiction experts.

Anti-meth advocate Dennis Makalio says, “You can't empower these laws when there is nowhere to get help. There's tens of thousands of people waiting to get help so how can you threaten them with a benefit.”

Director of Wesley Community Action David Hannah says, “I’m not too sure that waving a stick is going to be what’s going to make the difference. In fact I think there could be some risks that could accentuate some of the mental health problems that afflict far too many of our rangatahi.”

National's latest announcement is threatening to halve the benefits of those with drug problems who refuse treatment or a job.

Executive Director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation Ross Bell says “The government is willing to put more money into drug treatment and I think that’s good but, we don’t know how much money is going to be put in and we already have big pressure within the treatment system. Right now there are 50,000 New Zealanders who want help for their drug and alcohol problem but can't get it because there are waiting lists or there aren't services.”

Executive Director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation Ross Bell says, “While other parts of the policy are good, the drug testing policy is going to create some problems and may drive people towards using more harmful drugs.”

Bell says ”Cannabis we know stays in your system for four weeks and so people decide to not use cannabis but use a drug that’s harder to find like methamphetamine which can clear your system within a couple of days. We've seen that before with young people moving away from natural cannabis to using very dangerous synthetic cannabis so they can pass these drug tests.”

National would roll out the changes from July 1 next year.