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The Briefing to the Incoming Parliament (BIP), a policy brief prepared by the Drug Foundation for all parliamentarians, was publicly released 8 December 2014.

The succinct 16 page briefing aims to guide politicians’ thinking and influence changes to New Zealand’s drug law. Every sitting MP elected in the September 2014 General Election was sent a copy, and hopefully they have all read it cover to cover.

The briefing canvasses the Foundation’s top five priorities:

1. Keep young New Zealanders engaged in education

The first is to keep young New Zealanders engaged in education. In 2013, over a third of expulsions were due to drugs and substance abuse. Being expelled has massive ramifications for a child’s future: it’s been shown that employment is harder to attain, health is negatively affected (particularly mental health), and heavier drug addiction is more likely. The Foundation recommends working with schools to develop policies that treat drug use as a health and wellbeing issue so that students can be given support rather than being suspended, excluded or expelled.

2. Support individuals, families and communities to successfully manage risk to their health and well-being

Supporting individuals, families and communities to successfully manage risks to their health and wellbeing is the second priority. It’s the Foundation’s view that ‘if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.’ The government should work to empower agencies on the frontline and destigmatise individuals who need social support to recover from substance dependency.

3. Refresh New Zealand’s outdated drug policy and give health interventions greater priority

The third priority is to refresh New Zealand’s outdated drug policy and give health interventions greater priority. The Misuse of Drugs Act is now nearly 40 years old and is not an adequate tool to deal with today’s major drug use issues. A rebalancing of our current approach is needed - there should be a greater focus on prevention, treatment, early intervention, harm reduction and supporting recovery.

4. Develop effective responses for all new and emerging challenges

Developing effective responses for new and emerging challenges is the fourth priority. Volatile substance abuse and the emergence of new psychoactive substances have highlighted deficiencies in our ability to respond to dynamic changes in the drug market. The Psychoactive Substances Act is a pragmatic piece of legislation, but it has been hamstrung by the failure to follow through on regulations. It should be revisited and strengthened.

5. Be an active and engaged participant in global drug policy deliberations

The final priority is to be an active and engaged participant in global drug policy deliberations. There has been a noticeable shift in attitudes toward drug policy around the world, and New Zealand needs to keep abreast of developments. Collaboration with international partners is key in determining what works and what doesn’t.

With the election period well and truly over, it is now time for lawmakers to proactively improve the drug regime in this country. Over the coming months the Drug Foundation will be meeting with ministry officials, Ministers and new MPs to talk about making positive change to Aotearoa’s drug laws. The BIP will act as the cornerstone of those discussions.

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