Just a handful of Bay of Plenty beneficiaries had payments cut for taking drugs last year but a support worker says alcohol remains a huge concern.

Beneficiaries with work obligations are now required to take and pass a drug test when asked to as part of a job application, with sanctions applied to their benefits for failing the tests.

Last year, there were 1860 referrals for drug-testable positions in the Bay of Plenty and just 10 sanctions applied for failing, according to Ministry of Social Development (MSD) figures provided to the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend under the Official Information Act.

Te Tuinga Whanau support service executive director Tommy Wilson said the drug-testing policy was working.

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"I know first-hand that it's working because we have a lot of people within our organisation that come from past drug use and are doing better because they have that put on them," he said.

"I am encouraged that people are being more responsible, realising how important work is and what it can do for the mana of a family to have a parent working."

The downside of the policy was that many people were switching from traditional drugs to synthetic drugs. Those drugs were hard to test for because they changed so often, he said.

He thought synthetic drugs could do more damage to at-risk youth than organically grown marijuana.

Mr Wilson also said 82 per cent of the clients he dealt with had issues with alcohol.

I know first-hand that it's working because we have a lot of people within our organisation that come from past drug use and are doing better because they have that put on them.

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It wasn't uncommon for people to drink until Sunday night and attend work on Monday morning under the influence of alcohol.

"That seems to go under the radar or is almost normalised ... "

That issue needed to be addressed and alcohol needed to stop being sold on every corner, Mr Wilson said.

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Nationwide, some 31,791 referrals were made for drug-testable positions last year, with 55 sanctions for failing drug tests, according to MSD figures.

Sanctions for failing a drug test made up less than 0.5 per cent of the 15,000 total sanctions applied for working-age beneficiaries last year.

Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive, service delivery, Ruth Bound said the drug policy was aimed at identifying clients prevented from taking up suitable jobs due to drug use or who refused to apply for drug-tested jobs. It was intended to get them back to a position where they could apply for a full range of jobs.

Beneficiaries diagnosed with drug dependency would not be sanctioned under the policy but would receive the support they needed to deal with their addiction, she said.

There were differing levels of financial sanction depending on how many times a beneficiary failed to meet their obligations.

Work and Income worked closely with people to quickly resolve sanctions, Ms Bound said.