New addiction act could see demand upsurge

17 February 2017

Increased demand for addiction services and addiction nurses could follow a new Act streamlining the compulsory treatment order process for people with severe addiction.

Parliament this week passed the long-awaited Substance Addiction (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Bill to replace the 50-year-old Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act and treatment agencies say the new legislation could potentially save lives.

Louise Leonard, a nurse practitioner working in the area of alcohol and other addictions, believed the new Act was likely to flush out more people in need of addiction services as families see it as a new chance to get help for their loved ones.

She said not all these people would meet the strict criteria for compulsory treatment, which included not only severe addiction but also the addict's capacity to make informed decisions about treatment being severely impaired, but it could bring more people to the doors of addiction services needing help.

Dr Vanessa Caldwell, National Manager of Matua Raki (the national addictions workforce development agency) said the important legislation would support a vulnerable group of people and their families and whānau who had been underserved for years. Caldwell, who is also the Chair of the National Committee for Addiction Treatment, said the sector was committed to improving its responsiveness to those who needed it most but also added that the sector was stretched and had suffered constant under-investment.

Leonard said the old legislation had left services and families with limited options as the court could only grant compulsory treatment orders if there was a bed available in a designated or gazetted treatment unit, of which there were very few in the country. She hoped that under the new legislation services would be able to provide compulsory treatment, such as medical detox (detoxification) for alcoholics, locally, and if not locally then regionally. 

"I think it's absolutely going to increase the demand on services and an expectation from families that we can respond." Leonard said a flow-on on effect for this could be increased demand for medical detox and opioid substitute treatment, which requires medical or NP supervision and addiction nursing support. She said the addiction service's ability to respond to any increased demand through the new legislation would depend on whether the resources were available to back it up.

Caldwell said the addiction treatment sector was committed to working with local treatment providers to ensure appropriate services would be available and the Ministry of Health was supporting national training programmes to equip the workforce to meet the needs of this group of people.

Caldwell said while the number of people who require compulsory treatment interventions are quite low overall, it was known that more than 12 percent of New Zealanders would experience addiction during their lives and the results of untreated addiction was felt in all communities.  

“As with other areas of mental health, constant under-investment and over-stretching of the system has resulted in people in distress not being able to access adequate levels of care," said Caldwell. We would be keen to support any moves to solve these issues and reduce the demand for high-level services rather than focus on building more prisons.”  

The new Act passed its third reading on 15 February and is now awaiting royal assent. It is likely to come into effect in early 2018, 12 months after royal assent is granted.





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