Experts from across Cook Islands society are to join a leadership group to address problems with methamphetamine.
Cook Islands News is convening the national group in order to help set in place evidence-based principles guiding a cohesive national strategy. But the group will set its own work-plan – its leadership will come from experts, not from politicians or the media.
The initiative is part of the Our Meth Menace campaign the newspaper launched last month.
The Drug Addiction Leadership Group will develop cohesive principles guiding how the Cook Islands addresses the problem of methamphetamine in our communities.
Recognising this is a public health challenge, not just a law and order problem, the group will work collaboratively with government and non-government agencies to establish contemporary evidence-based principles informing a national health, education and enforcement strategy.
That strategy is expected to focus on minimising both the use of addictive drugs and the associated harm to users, families and their communities.
The leadership group has received a seal of approval from the government and civil sector in the Cook Islands.
It has also drawn support and praise from New Zealand’s police minister Stuart Nash, who visited last month and was briefed on the campaign.
Nash said in New Zealand, they had taken two very clear approaches in the fight against meth and other drugs.
One was the law and order approach to do deal with the supply side; the other was the health approach.
“What we are doing, we are treating addiction as a health issue and saying that often the people who find themselves addicted to methamphetamine are good people that made really bad decisions or found themselves in a really bad situation, and if we criminalise them, it just isn’t solving the problem,” Nash said.
“The best solution is to provide the mental health services they need to get to get out of this web of addiction and get back to being productive citizens.”
New Zealand’s problem with meth, or ‘P’, has been well-publicised. But Nash said they now had good mental health and addiction services running in New Zealand.
One programme was in the Northland district, where the police worked closely with the district health board.
“When the police arrest a dealer, they look through the phone and find a lot of their addicts and they knock on their door and say ‘hi we are New Zealand Police but we are not here to arrest you, we are here to help you’.
“The police will then put that person in front of a mental health and addiction worker pretty much straight-away and get the person off methamphetamine and back into becoming a productive citizen.
“That works really well but it’s only a pilot. We need to be able to roll this out around the country, but what we do know is, it works.”
The New Zealand programme has prompted Titikaveka MP Selina Napa to investigate whether it can be replicated in her community. She has called a forum at Muri Meeting House at 6 o’clock tonight, which will discuss a local action plan similar to that in Northland.
That focuses on prevention first and reducing harm in the community; supporting community and families; and providing users with better routes into treatment.
Nash said the Northland programme was pricey – but cheaper than keeping someone in the prison. In New Zealand, he said, it cost $110,000 a year to keep someone in jail.
“While it (the rehabilitation programme) is expensive, it’s lots cheaper than just locking them up and throwing away the key.”
Nash said the programme was also about giving users second chance: “A lot of what we are finding is most people say I want to get off this drug. They know it’s tearing their lives apart but because it’s really powerful addiction, until someone really says to them ‘hey we are here to help’, they don’t know where to go and what to do.
“We find that people are really open to this so again I’m sure my colleagues from Ministry of Health would be open to talk to your Ministry of Health and suggest how we are dealing with the meth issue and hopefully you can learn from us.”
Minister Nash said it was important to have the social infrastructure on the ground, or access to that social infrastructure, in order to get the users from addiction into becoming productive citizens again.
“What we do find is when you are on meth and you got kids, often your kids are absolutely neglected. So you know the consequences of addiction is not just criminal, they are often social as well.”