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A visiting British drug expert told the Healthy Drug Law Symposium in Wellington today that health and law enforcement professionals would best protect individuals and communities from drug harm by working together.

Mike Trace, Chairperson of the International Drug Policy Consortium and one time UK Government Deputy Drug 'Czar', said traditionally, courts and the police have focused on law enforcement while health agencies have sought to help addicts into treatment – and that often the two have been at cross purposes.

“There is a growing consensus worldwide that health and law enforcement officials should work in partnership in order to meet drug policy objectives, which are essentially the same for both agencies – to reduce drug use and availability, and protect society from the most harmful elements of the street drug market,” he said.

“In the UK, for example, the police have specialist advisers who identify people needing treatment for drug or alcohol dependence, and refer them to health and social services. The result is that health and social services can reach marginalised groups, and police are happy with the reduction in crime that comes from successful treatment.

“This approach is now well-established in the UK and has become a prominent strand in the new drug strategy Drugs: protecting families and communities.”

New Zealand Drug Foundation Director, Ross Bell, says there are things New Zealand can learn from the UK approach.

“Crackdowns aimed at reducing drug availability miss the heart of the problem and can actually increase crime rates as users need to cope with higher prices. The best way to protect society from drug-related harm is to get people addicted to drugs into treatment. Less people needing drugs will lead to natural reductions in supply and less drug-related crime.

“Law enforcement personnel are actually front-line workers when it comes to interventions for drug users. As such they have a key role to play in reducing drug harm.

“Evidence from the UK suggests that exploiting opportunities for the criminal justice system and health agencies to work together, such as arrest referral schemes, leads to a reduction in drug use and associated harms such as crime and the spread of blood-borne diseases.”

Mr Bell called for New Zealand’s law and policy makers and the health and treatment sectors to put aside political or ideological considerations and work together on policies and programmes that maximise human heath and welfare.

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