At the New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme, we welcome the report released yesterday by Sense Partners and the New Zealand Drug Foundation.
As a drug user-based programme, this is an issue that is particularly important and very personal to us. We’ve long argued for a health-based approach and the research shows that this is the most effective response in addressing drug harms. With this report, we now have the economic evidence.
The report also highlights the importance of broadening the range of interventions available and investing more in harm reduction - this is an integral part of addressing drug issues in New Zealand.
Harm reduction is an essential component of any treatment model. Drug use is normal, common and usual. Harm reduction is important because, contrary to what you often hear and read, not everyone who uses drugs develops a problem. If we understand this, then we understand that only does harm reduction reduce the risks to self and others but it also helps prevent problems developing in the first place.
Just last week Hon Helen Clark made a strong call for more harm reduction and innovation. New Zealand was the first country in the world to introduce a national state sponsored needle exchange programme. We were a leader, and we believe we need to lead again.
The Needle Exchange Programme is one of New Zealand’s most successful public health programmes and a good example of the economic case for reform and service enhancement. Internationally, HIV prevalence amongst people who inject drugs is 13%. In New Zealand it is just 0.2%, almost entirely due to the early introduction of needle exchange, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in health costs.
The current focus of law enforcement and criminal justice spend needs to change. It is evidenced as a failed policy. It is time for New Zealand to take a different approach.
We know that at least 50% of New Zealanders will have used an illicit substance. Remember that the war on drugs is a war on people who use drugs. People who use drugs are our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and our children, not ‘those people’ or ‘those addicts’.