5 Dec 2019

Addiction sector facing workforce shortage, growing wait times

From Nine To Noon, 9:08 am on 5 December 2019

Drug harm is estimated by the Ministry of Health to cost the country $1.8 billion and wait times for rehab are stretching out to six months as the sector faces a chronic workforce shortage.

The Addiction Practitioners' Association says alcohol addiction used to be the primary presenting issue to treatment centres, but meth has become the number one addiction being dealt with in many centres.

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Photo: photo / 123R

Executive Director Sue Patton told Lynn Freeman it’s difficult to pin down exactly what’s behind the rise in meth addiction, but the drop in price could be a factor.

“Meth has got a lot cheaper. The price has decreased dramatically over the past several years. We know that the cheaper a substance is, the more harm there is related to that substance.”

She says that while alcohol is no longer the presenting issue for many seeking help, people who are using meth are often using multiple substances.

One treatment centre, Higher Ground, says meth now makes up around 70 percent of their clients, where alcohol used to be the primary cause for people seeking help.

Patton says that sometimes we focus too much one drug at our own detriment and need to remember that addiction is addiction.

“Whether the drug is alcohol or methamphetamine, some of the issues are exactly the same.”

However, she acknowledges that meth is a very moreish drug and has a higher relapse rate than other substances.

It also presents more complex needs with meth induced psychosis and malnutrition.

“There’s a lot going on with these people, which is another reason we need to get them into timely treatment.”

She says people should only have to wait two weeks to go into treatment, not the current two to six months. However, she says she’s grateful for the current government acknowledging the problem and investing money in services.

“But, we’re still in a position where we need more choices available and we really need to focus now on getting those waiting times down.”

One of her biggest concerns is the workforce shortage the sector is currently facing. She says that although the government acknowledges they need more staff, some of the training providers are pulling back.

“WelTec has announced they won’t be offering training in Auckland anymore and that has a huge impact when you’re trying to grow the workforce. We really need to grow the workforce, we really need to look at training options.

“We need more addiction practitioners, but we also need more people with lived experience that can walk alongside people and integrate them into the community. We know that the more people integrate into the community, the stronger their recovery will be.”

She says there’s not a lot of incentive for people to come into addiction work, even if they’re passionate about it, because it often means a drop in pay.

“There’s probably no work that’s as rewarding - or as difficult in a lot ways – as working with people in that addiction recovery process. But you need to be able to have a workforce that is incentivised and that’s something that’s yet to be addressed.”

Despite the government’s pledge to increase funding, a private addiction centre in Auckland is closing its doors this month, citing compliance costs as a factor.

Zen Detox started in Kumeu in 2017 and has provided 7500 beds to clients from all over New Zealand. Director Al Reynolds says it was a very hard decision, but the centre became unviable.

The centre charged $23,000 for a 28-day programme that included clinicians, psychotherapy, a complete medical care plan. He says the centre couldn’t compete with other small private centres that weren’t offering the same level of treatment.

“We offered medical detox supervised by a registered nurse and then our clinical team oversaw a treatment plan… we provided a really strong foundation for them to go ahead with their addiction recovery.”

He says that despite the seemingly high price of the 28-day stay, it didn’t cover the costs and the family was losing money. He says there was no government money they could apply for our seek to stay open.

“Whilst the government spent $14 million on a study, we got a house, got our act together, and saved lives.”

  • New Zealand's rampant meth culture
  • Survey finds meth prices at record low in North Island centres