Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern doesn’t believe legalisation of synthetics is the answer to addressing the 45 users killed this year, saying it was too complicated to test all products under the last legislation.
With the coroner updating the number of deaths from synthetic drugs to 45 over the past 12 months compared with zero deaths when they were legal, the Prime Minister was asked by Breakfast's Jack Tame if legalisation could be a solution.
“I don’t think that necessarily is the answer because what we’re seeing is the marketplace is moving very, very quickly,” she said.
“There are products being sold that are harmful in some cases, of course, you’ve got fly spray on some products.”
“We do have harm, what the last legislation tried to do was take an approach of making sure that anything was only able to be sold once it had been tested.”
“Then it got very complicated because the only way to properly test was to use animal testing and here we are now in the regime we have because we aren’t able to properly enforce what was originally proposed.”
Ms Ardern admitted the country was playing “catch-up” with synthetics, saying they were working through a process of changing legislation to make penalties for supplying the drug harsher, while reducing punishments for those caught in possession.
She also denied that these proposed reforms were not aligned with the sentiments of her speech at the UN where she vowed to pursue a health-based approach to drugs.
“We’ve taken an intake of breath and said the expert advisory committee is saying bump it up, and we’re saying actually penalising people for possession doesn’t fix this problem,” she said.
“Supply is different for me and actually a health-based approach does say those who are supplying harmful drugs actually do need to be held to account.”
“We should be going after those who are, I think, preying on the vulnerable because we do see that there are vulnerable people who are using synthetics…but we need to de-couple it from possession and that’s what’s taking a little bit of time to work on.”
While the legislation was worked on, Ms Ardern said it was vital the government invested in the right areas, with a priority on addiction services.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re putting in extra support around (addiction) services, we put in $200 million in the last Budget around mental health and addiction services but I think it’s fair to say that’s not enough,” she said.
“I was just reading a couple of weeks ago a report that someone had gone out and contacted those on the front line and they were saying that’s where there’s a really big gap is, we haven’t got enough services across the country for detoxification.”
“Now we just poured quite a bit of money into building a new detox set of beds in Auckland but it takes time to do that as well, so I do feel like we are on the back foot, we are trying to catch up.”