New Zealand is experiencing a surge of synthetic drug overdoses—but in response, the government has introduced a series of reform policies that include treating possession and consumption as public health issues while increasing enforcement against synthetic drug suppliers.
Officials are also weighing the potential “full decriminalisation of drugs.”
Certain synthetic substances believed to have caused recent overdoses will now be more strictly scheduled under the country’s drug laws, which will expand the search and seizure authority of law enforcement.
But the government is also amending its Misuse of Drugs Act to specify that police “should not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution.”
The reform policies represent an immediate response, but government leaders also said that formal decriminalization, as recommended earlier this month by the New Zealand Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry, is still under consideration.
In the meantime, new funds will be used to enhance addiction treatment centers, especially in regions where there’s a spike in overdoses.
Full #NZ Govt drug policy statement: https://t.co/KJlPZjHUGS Announcement also brings good news for community addiction treatment services. They will get NZD16.5 million more. The Govt is making good on @jacindaardern pledge to follow health approach. @globalcdp @IDPCnet @nzdrug
— Helen Clark (@HelenClarkNZ) December 13, 2018
“It’s time to do what will work,” New Zealand Minister of Health David Clark said in a press release Thursday. “We need to go harder on the manufactures of dangerous drugs like synthetics, and treat the use of drugs as a health issue by removing barriers to people seeking help.”
The policy to use discretion in prosecutions for possession and consumption applies to all illicit drugs. The government said that was necessary to avoid having people turn to any one particular drug based on its relative penalties.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said that illicit drug use “remains illegal and people should not be complacent about the risks of getting caught,” but added that police “currently use their discretion when it comes to drug users who are suffering from addiction or mental health problems.”
“We are striking a balance between discouraging drug use and recognizing that many people using drugs need support from the health system, or education about harm reduction,” Nash said. “We don’t want our jails full of people with addiction problems, we want those people getting treatment.”
In a separate development earlier this week, New Zealand lawmakers approved a bill to create a legal market for medical cannabis.
Photo courtesy of Tākuta.