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Many people identified addiction as a serious public health issue. People criticised the subtle normalisation of alcohol, other drugs and gambling within our society over past decades, with much easier access to all three. They pointed to the increasing number of liquor and gambling outlets, their placement near schools and in poorer communities, and the failure of ‘tough on drugs’ policies to restrict availability.

Many submitters called for more restrictive legislation and advertising rules for alcohol to enhance protective and preventative initiatives. They argued for a pragmatic ‘what works’ approach, pointing to successful public health policies, such as those used to treat nicotine addiction. People asked for a public health response to restrict supply, alongside increasing the range and availability of therapies to assist people recover from addiction.

We were told that addiction is the opposite of connection, a taniwha that isolates users and holds them in its grip. They spoke of the high social costs of not addressing addictions: harm to families, children and communities. People saw an urgent need to prevent harmful addictions and provide pathways to recovery.

2.6.1 More treatment and rehabilitation services

We heard that when people reach a point of crisis, it is critical to intervene quickly with a variety of well-supported and culturally safe treatment options within their communities. People called for rehabilitation (rehab) services such as detox facilities and counselling to be much more widely available. They wanted residential and other services to keep people safe during drug withdrawal and to aid their recovery with professional help, peer-support programmes and strengths-based approaches to healing.

When a person is ready to change the treatment needs to be available then. Not one hundred placements down the line. (Self-identified service user and provider)

2.6.2 A mature drug policy

People wanted New Zealand to adopt a mature drug policy, with addiction treated as a health issue not a criminal justice issue. The threat of criminal sanctions was said to be ineffective in reducing drug use and a barrier to seeking help, especially for families enmeshed in the subculture of illegal drug manufacture and supply. People called for addiction to be destigmatised and recognised as a maladaptive response to stress, anxiety and trauma.

People spoke of the harmful perverse effects of ‘tough on drugs’ policies, such as encouraging gang control of drug supplies and pushing addicts and their families into the margins of society. We were told that our largely punitive criminal justice response to drug use fails to acknowledge the root causes of drug addiction (trauma, abuse, anxiety and isolation) or the frequent connection between intergenerational abuse, addiction, mental distress, unemployment, poverty and homelessness. We heard how addiction programmes begun inside prison are difficult to maintain as a prisoner transitions back to the community, and how programmes such as diversionary drug courts provide a person-centred, coordinated and effective approach.

It’s not a war on drugs it’s a war on very sick people and it needs to stop. Addicts need to be treated as addicts not criminals. (Family member of service user)

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