SOLVENT ABUSE RISES 50PC IN SIX YEARS, CORONER TOLD
Solvent abuse incidents have increased by almost 50 per cent in the past six years, new figures show.
The number of incidents recorded by police increased from 570 in 1998 to 837 last year. There were significant increases in the past three years, from 697 in 2001 and 763 in 2002.
The figures were included in a joint submission from the ministries of health, education and youth development to Wellington coroner Garry Evans' inquest into substance abuse and what the government is doing about it. The hearing was sparked by the deaths of six people from solvent abuse.
Giving evidence, Pauline Gardiner - chief executive of drug and alcohol school support programme WellTrust - said drug policies were not working.
"It is not an option to continue the way we have been going, and it is not an option to do nothing," she said in a submission.
She called for a two-year public awareness campaign to reverse society's widespread acceptance of drugs.
The Health Ministry's National Drug Policy focused on harm minimisation - recognising drug use as a reality and trying to reduce the effects rather than stop it - and that was not appropriate for children, Mrs Gardiner said. "I've always had difficulty with that blanket approach. Harm minimisation for me is not an education tool, it is an intervention tool." Advertisement
Children should be given facts on the effects of drug use to prevent them using drugs, rather than being told how to use them more safely, she said.
"We say that it is unrealistic for children not to use drugs. I don't think that it's unrealistic at all. Up to a certain age, most don't."
Mr Evans asked Mrs Gardiner if New Zealand was fulfilling its duty under the UN convention on the rights of the child to protect children from the use of illegal drugs. "No, I don't believe we are," she replied.
Health Ministry spokesman Brendon Baker said the focus on harm minimisation would be reconsidered as part of a review of the National Drug Policy.
A revised policy was expected to go out for consultation early next year.
With limited funds, an expensive advertising campaign would have to be weighed against other needs, such as respite care, Mr Baker said.
A proposal put forward by Jim Anderton this month could regulate the sale and use of anything from party pills to petrol, glue, air freshener, nail polish and lighter fuel.
Mr Evans has reserved his findings.