NZ's current approach to meth is failing Māori, 'thorough overhaul' is needed - report

By Kelvin McDonald
Around 500 people marched through the streets of Huntly in 2019 to oppose the use of methamphetamine. Photo / File

NZ's current approach to methamphetamine is failing Māori and a major overhaul is required to introduce new health-based solutions, a newly released report commissioned by the Helen Clark Foundation and the NZ Drug Foundation suggests.

"Māori use methamphetamine at a higher rate than non-Māori, and are criminalised for its use at a disproportionately higher rate," the report says.

"The flow-on impacts of colonisation and ongoing systemic racism lead to Māori being more likely to suffer from mental health and addiction issues, and generally from poorer health overall."

Furthermore, Māori suffer greater healthcare and cultural impacts, it says.

"That means that methamphetamine use takes a higher toll on Māori, who also face greater barriers to accessing appropriate healthcare.

"In addition, Māori face cultural impacts from high methamphetamine use that are not experienced by other groups. Community leaders have highlighted the negative impacts from high rates of methamphetamine use as one of the most significant issues facing Māori communities."

Dr Hinemoa Elder (Te Aupouri, Ngāti Kurī, Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi), co-author of the report and a board member of the Helen Clark Foundation, says the report provides "circuit-breakers" that stand to make a real difference.

"We must change how we help whānau struggling with methamphetamine use if we want to really make a difference.

"The recommendations in this report offer the potential circuit-breakers we need to help our whānau who desperately need access to what works and we know that what works is developmentally and culturally meaningful."

Among a number of suggested solutions, the report recommends developing more kaupapa Māori treatment and support options.

Lead author of the report, Philippa Yasbek, says the solutions proposed are backed by evidence, but require proper resourcing and a genuine policy shift away from locking people up and towards a health-based approach.   

“Programmes like Te Ara Oranga in Northland have already shown what a successful local approach to methamphetamine can look like with the whole community on board – we need to apply that right across the country,” Yasbek says.