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The Drug Foundation has called on the Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry to embrace a whanau, social and cultural approach to Māori wellbeing, instead of pathologising Māori as a condition in the old “disease” model approach.

In collaboration with other Māori colleagues, we have presented a collective submission to the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry. We’ve also raised these and other issues in our own capacity. The Māori Manifesto: A framework for change highlights the need to prioritise Māori and drugs. Our current laws have a disproportionate effect on Māori, which creates major challenges for our health system. In order to reduce drug harm for Māori, we must:

  • Shift drug use from a criminal justice issue to a health issue
  • Reallocate drug enforcement funding to drug treatment, education and prevention
  • Reset primary health care to better respond to Māori drug issues
  • Review the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975
  • Remove criminal penalties for the possession, use and social supply of all drugs.

For decades, the addiction sector has been treated as a poor cousin to the wider mental health system. The addiction sector must have its own mana and dedicated funding, if it’s to respond effectively to the complexities of substance use disorders. Currently, there are no clear expectations outlined in the Ministry of Health’s Operational Policy Framework, which has caused inconsistency in the way mental health and addiction services are delivered.

Many individuals who develop substance use disorders (SUD) will also have an underlying mental health? disorder. When two disorders or illnesses occur in the same person, whether at the same time or not, they are described as “comorbid”. This means the illnesses interact with each other, affecting the course and prognosis of both. For Māori, any substance use disorder goes hand in hand with mental illness and physical health conditions. Add to that, the significant problems caused by our criminal justice system, unemployment, racism and poverty, and it’s no wonder Māori are suffering disproportionately more.

Māori whānau and communities have a key role in supporting those people within their own communities who are in need of help. 

We wish good luck to the Inquiry team. From what we have seen so far, they and their advisers have been committed to reaching out, and have listened to many voices from our Māori communities.

Mental health is a multifaceted issue, so we think it’s risky to place all our eggs in one basket by relying on a single inquiry. One thing is clear: You can’t review New Zealand’s mental health system, without considering a fundamental review of our drug laws.

By Gilbert Taurua
Principal Adviser, Tautāwhihia. Kaua e whiu
NZ Drug Foundation 

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