Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Fears addicts may face longer waiting time for treatment

The Salvation Army's Bridge programme say they are already under huge pressure.
The Salvation Army's Bridge programme say they are already under huge pressure.

Drug and alcohol addicts may face longer waiting times for treatment as services brace for an influx of about 700 welfare beneficiaries needing assessment every year after failing controversial new drug tests.

Odyssey House and the Salvation Army's Bridge programme say they are already under "huge pressure" to treat more people being referred from prisons, probation services and two specialist Drug Courts set up in Auckland and Waitakere last November.

They expect a further jump in demand because of a policy that took effect this week to halve or stop welfare benefits for people who fail two drug tests for jobs or training within a year and then fail a further test 25 days later.

About 40 per cent of jobs listed with Work and Income require drug tests, and a Cabinet paper estimated last year that up to 5800 people would have their benefits docked for failing them. Their benefits will be restarted if they enrol in a treatment programme of at least six weeks.

The Alcohol Drug Association NZ, which operates the existing alcohol/drug helpline, has won a contract believed to be worth almost $1 million a year to provide a specialist drug helpline for beneficiaries, buy 700 specialist assessments a year, and fund outpatient counselling for beneficiaries who have to wait more than six weeks for treatment or are not eligible for health funding.

But Odyssey House chief executive Philip Grady said this would not be enough if many of the 700 people undergoing assessment needed more than a six-week group programme.

"Once you assess someone and find out there is a problem then there need to be some services that come in behind that to support a person to address the problem," he said.

"We have a three-month waiting list. This is going to cause a strain and waiting times will potentially grow."

Salvation Army Auckland addictions director Captain Mike Douglas said the Government had provided extra funding for referrals from the new Drug Courts but had not yet done the same for beneficiaries.

The new law provides that people with recognised addictions, or taking drugs such as methadone on treatment programmes, will not be asked to sit drug tests.

But members of the Counties-Manukau Alcohol and Other Drugs Consumers Network said they could be caught up in the general pressure from the welfare reforms to look for work too soon.

A report for a local agency in February found that work was "strongly associated with wellbeing, social inclusion and recovery" - but also that "for others, work can jeopardise recovery".

One recovering addict, who was a successful businessman before a nine-year addiction to methamphetamine, said it took time to rebuild self-esteem.

"You are grieving and dealing with shame and remorse and loss," he said.

"I'm on anti-depressants, which is a big help because long-term drug use affects your serotonin and dopamine levels and makes it very hard to get back on an even keel and see the bright side of life."

Another man feared bosses and workmates might target him if he returned to work.

Everyone in the group said it was hard to get jobs because of suspended driver's licences and criminal convictions while they were addicted.

"It's all very well telling someone with depression and anxiety to go on to Jobseeker Support. The fear that that puts into people is quite detrimental," said group co-coordinator Rachel Maloney.

- NZ Herald

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