A recommendation in the report into mental health and addiction services that criminal sanctions for personal drug use should be removed and replaced with more health interventions is the right thing to do, the Drug Foundation says.

"The Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry has joined a chorus of other voices urging the
Government to treat drugs as a health and social issue. Based on these recommendations the Government can be confident its plans to take a fresh approach to drugs is the right thing to do," said Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell.

The inquiry proposed a new approach that included removing criminal sanctions for personal possession, introducing health referrals and early intervention, increasing funding for addiction treatment and expanding the range of health interventions available.

Bell said the report mapped out a clear direction for the Government and the Drug Foundation endorsed its recommendation to establish a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission and improve cross-government co-ordination on alcohol and other drug policies.

Advertisement

"There is a strong consensus on taking a public health approach to drug issues. We now need the Government to act and to demonstrate this in the 2019 wellbeing Budget," Bell said.

The Green Party urged the Government to move quickly and implement the findings before more New Zealanders were harmed.

"The Government has held back from big change in delivering support while awaiting the report's findings, which serves as a watershed moment for the mental health crisis in Aotearoa New Zealand," said Chloe Swarbrick, spokeswoman on mental health and drug law reform.

"Now we have a comprehensive blueprint to solve a crisis that is costing lives and hurting New Zealanders. This Government must heed the recommendations of the report."

The Greens noted the recommendation that criminal sanctions for personal drug use should be removed and for addiction to be treated as a health issue.

"We will continue advocating strongly to see this recommendation implemented," Swarbrick said.

The Mental Health Foundation called for the Government to get on with making the changes urgently.

"We are particularly keen to see work completed urgently on the national suicide prevention strategy as New Zealand has been without one since 2016," chief executive Shaun Robinson said.

"The Government has been waiting for the inquiry, and the inquiry has instructed them to stop delaying and get going. There is no further justification for delay, too much time and too many lives have been lost," he said.

"We've had more than 10 years of neglect and erosion of mental health services and responses. "There is no more time to waste, it's time for action."

Professor Sally Casswell, a social and health researcher at Massey University, said it was important to provide better treatment options than currently exist but the inquiry was silent on the issue of supply of illicit drugs.

"Supply, as we have seen from alcohol, is a crucially important part of the problem and we need to ensure that supply of all drugs is tightly controlled."

Professor Max Abbott, co-director of the National Institute of Public Health and Mental Health Research, said the review had identified numerous gaps and the measures needed to address them.

"The major challenge is translating all this into reality at ground level. This cannot happen overnight and will require careful prioritising and management. It will require ongoing commitment from future Governments," he said.

Sue Paton, executive director of the Addiction Practitioners' Association, said the review panel would have heard about the impact the current scarcity of well-resourced services was having.

"Right now, for example, people are dying in unprecedented numbers from the use of synthetic drugs. At least 50 people died in New Zealand in the last year and that's just one type of drug," Paton said.

"We as health professionals working directly with people affected by addiction are calling on the Government to invest in the practitioners and services that support recovery instead of spending millions of dollars punishing drug users," she said.

"New Zealand has a well-trained and experienced addiction workforce but there aren't enough of these dedicated professionals. There is an urgent need to address inequity in remuneration to attract and retain good people from allied disciplines," Paton said.