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News (Media Awareness Project) - New Zealand: Drug Treatment Options Lacking
Title:New Zealand: Drug Treatment Options Lacking
Published On:2011-12-29
Source:Gisborne Herald (New Zealand)
Fetched On:2011-12-29 06:02:53

LONG waits for offenders to have court-appointed drug and alcohol
counselling in Gisborne have highlighted a national problem.

Two national spokesmen on the issue say a lack of community-based
drug treatment programmes could lead judges to sentence offenders to
prison just to get help.

About 20,000 people are sentenced to prison every year in New Zealand
and up to 80 percent of those crimes have a drug or alcohol component.

That might not be anything new but the lack of funding to help
offenders conquer their addictions outside prison means a long wait -
resulting in a constant stream of recidivist behaviour through the courts.

There are only 1000 places available in prisons across the country
for drug and alcohol rehabilitation . . . and even fewer in the community.

In Gisborne, offenders ordered to undergo treatment by the court can
face a wait of up to three months.

Awhina House is Gisborne's main community provider of drug and
alcohol counselling but the newly-establish Tauawhi Men's Centre also
offers counselling and support, as do iwi agencies like Turanga Health.

Wellington-based Alcohol and Drug Assessment and Counselling clinical
manager Roger Brooking says it is a frustrating situation and a
national problem.

The author of Flying Blind, a book that accuses the justice system of
perpetuating crime and the Corrections Department of failing to
correct it, has been an alcohol and drug counsellor for 10 years.

"It is a huge issue. My personal opinion is that in terms of
availability of addiction treatment programmes, New Zealand is a
Third World country."

About 100,000 appear in court each year for alcohol and drug-related
offending. Of those, 20,000 end up in prison but 5 to 10 percent get
an assessment. Even fewer get treatment.

"In some cases, people wait for two years to get help or die on the
waiting list."

Mr Brooking says between 25,000 and 30,000 people access alcohol and
drug services in the community in New Zealand every year.

But experts say there are about 180,000 who need to get treatment.

He partly blames Sensible Sentencing Trust's national spokesman Garth
McVicar, who has campaigned hard for victim's rights for 10 years.

"He has played a large part with the lock them up thrown away the key
mentality," he said.

In New Zealand the key does not get thrown away and when it comes
time for offenders to be released, they have had little, or no,
treatment in prison to strengthen their resolve when they are
returned back into a world full of temptation.

Mr Brooking says a large part of the problem is insufficient funding
has been made available for addiction treatment.

"A national commission on addiction treatments has recommended that
funding should be tripled for New Zealand to start addressing its
binge drinking and drug problems."

A Law Commission report in October 2010, on compulsory treatment for
substance dependence, agreed that New Zealand needed a greater range
of residential programmes capable of providing for people who require
compulsory drug and alcohol treatment.

The report said there were only four facilities authorised to accept
people under compulsory treatment orders after they have completed
detoxification in a hospital.

"None was willing to take young people under 20 and none was
available outside the three main centres."

The justice system is failing miserably, says Mr Brooking.

"When people come out of prison there is no support. They have no
treatment in prison, then they are faced with the problem of how to
get into a community programme to meet their parole conditions."

There are only two halfway houses in country to specifically support
prisoners, one in Dunedin and one in Christchurch. There are none in
the North Island.

Mr Brooking says in Canada, 60 percent of prisoners who come out of
prison are supported in halfway houses. In New Zealand that figure is
less than 1 percent.

Residential treatment centres like Odyssey in Auckland have big
waiting lists, so many of the people with problems end up in the
justice system.

"Then some residential places don't want to take justice clients.
They want only highly-motivated people and they won't take mandated offenders."

Mr Brooking says research shows compulsory treatment is just as
effective as voluntary treatment.

"It's a huge problem in New Zealand and the Government is simply not
addressing it. There are terrible crimes happening around children
and most of that occurs under the influence of alcohol, as well as
most domestic violence.

"It's all very well having commissions of inquiry about what we do
about child abuse but no mention is made of alcohol abuse. You need
to deal with the underlying problem."

Rethinking Crime and Punishment executive director Kim Workman says
the worst-case scenario would be judges sending people to prison just
to get help because of the decrease in funding to community programmes.

He has worked for years with young offenders and in 2007 was made a
Companion of the Queens Service Order.

"Three or four years ago we spoke out about the imbalance between the
drug treatment programmes available within the prison system and
those available within the community.

"The Department of Corrections, to their credit, has been vigorously
establishing drug treatment units within the prison system," he said.

Over the past three years, the number of drug treatment units in the
prison system has almost doubled, with 10 units now operating across
the country and 1000 places a year.

"But the problem we have is that those people able to qualify for
those beds usually have to have spent more than two years in prison to qualify.

"There cannot be any evidence of further drug use while in prison,
which is a difficulty.

"On the other hand, there is almost no residential drug treatment
facility in the community.

Given that 80 percent of all prisoners have drug and alcohol issues,
and 70 percent who are in prison today will be released in the next
six or seven months, it is a major problem."

There are a huge number of prisoners there for short bursts, with no
access to rehabilitative programmes, he says.

The difficulty is that they do not qualify for the in-house drug
treatment programmes, and spaces in the community are few and far between.

"We are sentencing people to prison for short periods of time but
without access to treatment. So there is a funding imbalance between
the Department of Corrections and the Ministry of Health.

"If we're not careful, the judiciary will send people to prison in
order to get treatment."

"The DHBs just don't have funding and programmes are no longer available."

Tairawhiti District Health Board chief executive Jim Green says
self-referrals, or those referred by their GP, can be seen for an
assessment within a matter of days at Awhina House.

"The problem referred to relates to a specific programme for the
courts, which is less urgent than direct referrals. There is
definitely a waiting time for this."
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