Targeting gangs and human rights the wrong approach

Published: Mon 4 Sep 2017 10:05 AM
Targeting gangs and human rights completely the wrong approach
National Committee for Addiction Treatment media release, 4 September 2017
The National Committee for Addiction Treatment (NCAT) says that while fears around rising methamphetamine addiction and associated violence are understandable, the Government’s willingness to play hard and fast with human rights will only make matters worse.
NCAT co-Chair Dr Vanessa Caldwell, who is also National Manager for Mata Raki, National Addiction Workforce Development, says the way to reduce harm from drug use is to help people overcome their addiction and among the greatest barriers to this is stigma and fear.
“People across the spectrum of society experience the impact of drug addiction. When people are made to feel less worthy than others it makes it very difficult for them to reach out for help.
“So at a time when we’re seeing a worldwide move away from kneejerk punitive approaches, these statements take us back to the failed war on drugs mentality that in practice is a war on drug users.
“While Mr English may be glad we don't have a constitution to get in the way, we do have a Bill of Rights and a National Drug Policy, brought in recently by this very government, that is underpinned by the ideas of proportionality, innovation and compassion.”
Dr Caldwell says the government seems bent on chipping away at these ideas and its own policies by dismantling good work that’s already been done.
“You can't have it both ways. Earlier this year we saw funding pulled for a very successful treatment programme for gang members who wanted help for methamphetamine addiction that the whole world was applauding. That innovation is gone.
“Gangs don't actually have a monopoly within the drug industry. Drug use and supply cut across all segments of society so to target one segment and say they are worth less than others means proportionality and compassion are thrown out the window as well.
“This is not okay. In fact, it’s appalling. This is exactly how stigma is perpetuated and why we have to constantly go cap in hand to get the funding needed to actually address this issue properly.”
Dr Caldwell said most people addicted to methamphetamine want to stop and that we should be doing everything we can to make it easier for them to put their hand up for treatment.
“Saying some people have fewer human rights will only reinforce the ‘us and them’ mentality. This is why the United Nations has explicitly called on member states to bring drug enforcement activities in line with human rights obligations,[1] and why these comments from government are so distressing.
“They may be appealing to a small group of our society as we approach a general election, but they are misguided and reflect a completely wrong and counterproductive approach,” Dr Caldwell said.

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