Experts from around New Zealand, and from overseas, will gather in Wellington on Tuesday 30 August for a Drug Policy Symposium organised by NZ Drug Foundation and NZ Society on Alcohol and Drug Dependence.

The purpose of the Symposium is to focus the attention of policy makers and funders on ways to develop a high quality addiction treatment system that gets more people into treatment and retains those who are already in it. Dignitaries who will speak include Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne, and one-time Deputy Drug Czar to the Obama Administration Professor Tom McLellan.

Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell says New Zealand’s governments have consistently underinvested in addiction treatment services despite alcohol and other drug abuse being the sixth highest contributor to our burden of disease.

“It’s time for a massive re-think on the way we deal with addiction and drug abuse, especially in terms of treatment. We’re struggling along with legislation and social attitudes that were already outmoded last century and, until that changes, the cost to us as communities and individuals will remain unacceptably high.”

The government has recently provided extra funding to addiction treatment through initiatives such as the Methamphetamine Action Plan and the Drivers of Crime strategy, but Mr Bell says significant opportunities to reduce harm through treatment are still being missed.

“Fundamental to our failure is that we have a flawed understanding of how addiction works and how best to treat it. As a result we’re reaching only a fraction of the people we should, and many of the resources we are throwing at controlling New Zealand’s drug problem have been misdirected and wasted.

“By gathering some of the best and most knowledgeable minds from around the country and overseas to speak, we hope we can influence government to invest in a treatment system that more effectively improves the lives of those with drug and alcohol problems, and the lives of those they affect.”

Mr Bell says a number of opportunities for change are coming up this year including a new mental health service plan, a health workforce review and a refreshing of the mental health and addictions ‘Blueprint’. He also says the government’s announced extra $10 million for treatment is welcome news, but that the problem is not just one of money.

“New Zealand is poised on the brink of change. The question is, will we have the courage to honestly reappraise the way we've been approaching addiction treatment, or will we gaze at our navels for another five years while the rest of the world moves on?

“Let’s hear what the experts advise.”

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