21st June 2019, Volume 132 Number 1497

Benedikt Fischer, Sally Casswell

New Zealand’s Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction recently presented its Final Report, containing a total of 40 recommendations.1 These include a subset of four recommendations (#s 26–29; see…

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Summary

The publication provides comments on the substance use-related recommendations included in the recent New Zealand Government Inquiry on Mental Health and Addiction’s final report from a science perspective, provided by two senior scholars with relevant (international) experience in the alcohol and drugs fields. The authors emphasise the need for joint consideration and addressing of addiction and mental health issues, given that these commonly co-occur especially in individuals with severe problems. Effective reductions in alcohol-related harms will require strengthened supply and marketing controls. A fundamental shift in the control of personal drug use from criminalisation to a health-centred approach is strongly advised; however, such a shift centrally requires corresponding reforms to and enshrining in core parts of the drug law. ‘Decriminalisation’ measures for problematic drug users, while often well-intended, should be evidence-based and consider important experiences from elsewhere, yet also need to ensure that they do not bring un-intended adverse consequences (eg, increased police or judicial discretion, net-widening or shifts rather than reductions in punishment). New Zealand urgently requires improved interventions and resources for the treatment of problematic substance use; at the same time, an overall concerted and integrated approach to policy and regulations across different areas of substance use is required. This is especially important with possibly impending cannabis legalisation, where use and supply regulations should be meaningfully coordinated with corresponding regulations for other drugs (eg, alcohol, tobacco).

Abstract

The New Zealand Government Inquiry Into Mental Health And Addiction recently tabled its final report, including a substantial set of recommendations. Four of these recommendations focused specifically on interventions and policy for psychoactive substance use (including alcohol and drugs). Based on longstanding involvement in science on alcohol- and other drugs-related health and policy, and similar commission efforts, the authors briefly examine and provide comments on these recommendations from a scientific evidence perspective. In sum, the Inquiry’s recommendations provide a good and sensible basis towards improved substance use-related health and reduced harms in New Zealand. Concrete design and implementation of these reforms require thoughtful consideration of key evidence, details and experiences elsewhere, as well as a concerted strive for policy coherence, in order to be successful.

Author Information

Benedikt Fischer, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland; Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada; Department of Psychiatry, Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), São Paulo, Brazil; Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA), Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada; Sally Casswell, SHORE & Whariki Research Centre, College of Health, Massey University, Auckland.

Acknowledgements

Dr Fischer acknowledges support from the endowed Hugh Green Foundation Chair in Addiction Research, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland. The authors thank Ms Lenka Vojtila for her support in assembling this manuscript.

Correspondence

Benedikt Fischer, Professor, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, 85 Park Rd, Grafton, Auckland 1023.

Correspondence Email

b.fischer@auckland.ac.nz

Competing Interests

Dr Fischer reports affiliation with Hugh Green Foundation during the conduct of the study.

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