I welcome the significant boost in funding for Mental Health initiatives announced in the recent Budget. Governments of both stripes have been slow in the past to respond to the worrying increase in our suicide statistics, addiction rates and other concerns.
These serious matters can have devastating consequences for those who are unwell, and cause huge stress and heartbreak for their family and friends.
Therefore, it's desirable for political parties to work collaboratively to secure significant improvements in our treatment services and better results for those who are facing mental health challenges.
I will support all initiatives made possible by the Budget funding increase that can be shown to be well-targeted, evidence-based and effective.
However, I am concerned that so little of the extra $1.9 billion that has been allocated for mental health is earmarked for drug and alcohol addiction services.
I'm also alarmed at the Budget fine print that suggests our Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts (AODTCs), which were piloted and funded by National, are under threat.
Alcohol and drug abuse causes havoc in our communities. Both lead to road crashes, violence on our streets and misery in our homes. Methamphetamine use is increasingly driving homicides.
NZ research indicates more than 50 per cent of crime is committed by people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that two-thirds of our prisoners have substance abuse issues.
AODTCs focus on breaking the cycle of addiction, with access to specialised services which engage with offenders on a longer-term basis as they complete appropriate milestones alongside their sentences.
I believe the AODTC programme should be expanded throughout the country, but no extra funding has been announced for the courts beyond June next year and the government has given no commitment to continuing with them.
I have been a strong advocate for an AODTC in Hamilton and I've been hugely encouraged by the energy and commitment local agencies and service providers have devoted to establishing one for our city.
There is ample international evidence to suggest that AODTCs are very effective in reducing crime and recidivism, and promoting rehabilitation for those who battle addiction.
Research suggests they provide $2 to $14 of benefit for every $1 invested. AODTCs are operating in Auckland, Australia, Canada, the UK and many other countries.
There are 3000 AODTCs in the United States, and states such as Texas are closing prisons because the courts are so effective at helping people out of addiction.
Despite the Government's apparent unwillingness to support Hamilton's AODTC formation committee, I will continue to push for the establishment of a local drug court, which is also strongly supported by the Waikato Mayoral Forum and Waikato DHB.