Those at the coalface of the synthetic drug problem plaguing communities appeared before the health select committee in parliament today to make recommendations on the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill, which aims to crack down on synthetics.
Hāpai te Hauora general manager Janell Dymus-Kurei is concerned about the rising number of synthetic drug deaths, given more than half of synthetic users are Māori.
"Our people are still dying by synthetics and the numbers have grown from about 60 to about 80 people," she says.
The bill would give police more powers to refer synthetics users to health services instead of arresting them.
Dymus-Kurei has raised concerns about the ability of health services to meet demand.
She also questions whether using the proposed 56g threshold to distinguish suppliers from users is realistic, given people often both supply and use, and those with severe addictions could use this amount in a single day.
"[Police] will only look at the possession threshold and that could make it difficult for police to think about how, when or whether they use that health approach," she says.
There was also a lack of clarity about what type of substance, for example pills, powder or the like, would be subject to the threshold.
NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell says concerns of police bias towards Māori and the likelihood that some addicts deal to support their habit could see Māori more likely to slip through the cracks.
"We need to keep a close watch on police to make sure that they do evenly apply discretion so that Māori do benefit from those alternative approaches," he says.
Te Ao Māori News asked Health Minister David Clark if Māori were still more likely to be prosecuted than non-Māori.
He says, "Concern around drug use generally is that in many cases Māori have been effectively the ones put in prison for using substances. We're trying to support those caught in the web of addiction, that is why we're taking a health-based approach."
Dymus-Kurei says a relationship and process between police and health providers would be necessary to ensure those needing help receive it.