Budget 2019

A groundbreaking pilot helping methamphetamine addicts has secured funding for another four years - giving clinicians hope it might yet go nationwide.

Te Ara Oranga, which sees police and health staff work together in Northland to treat meth addicts, was granted $4 million in the Budget, alongside a raft of extra addiction funding.

It means the award-winning project no longer faces an uncertain future. After its initial $3m funding ran out in 2018, the project's health component had been dependent on six-monthly funding cycles.

"This means it's sustainable. When you want to deliver something that works well you need to be able to do it over a period of time and with this funding we can be certain that can happen," said clinician and project manager Jewel Reti. "I'm ecstatic."

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Detective Inspector Mike Varnam, who heads the police side of TAO, said so far police had referred 300 users to addiction services.

"These are people who otherwise wouldn't engage with addiction treatment, so we feel we're hitting the right targets and the Budget announcement reinforces that."

The funding is expected to help an extra 500 people a year with meth issues. It comes as the Government pours an extra $1.9 billion into mental health and addiction, including $455m for frontline services.

By his own account Te Ara Oranga counsellor Robin Oxborough, right, does things a little differently.
By his own account Te Ara Oranga counsellor Robin Oxborough, right, does things a little differently.

This will include increased availability of counselling and group therapies in up to four regions; $200m of District Health Board capital investments for new and existing mental health and addiction facilities; and $128.3m over four years to expand mental health and Alcohol and Other Drug services for offenders.

Green Party mental health and drug law reform spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick said she had hoped Te Ara Oranga would be expanded nationwide, but the funding nonetheless represented progress.

"Sitting down with those who've found their way into and out of addiction and dependence on substances from synthetics to methamphetamine, it's evident that decades of lock 'em up rhetoric has cost lives, and fundamentally misunderstood the problem for the sake of political grandstanding," she said.

"This Budget, and the legislative programme we've been undertaking are a paradigm transformation."

New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell.
New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell.

Drug Foundation chief executive Ross Bell said although he had been pessimistic about what Labour planned to do, the Budget was a pleasant surprise.

"There's a really coherent package there. You're getting funding for primary care, and at the acute end. There's funding for community services and for prisons. There's a commitment to system change, and the money there to do it."

Bell said it would be possible for communities who wanted programmes similar to Te Ara Oranga to create their own from frontline funding.