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Māori three times more likely to die from drug overdose, report reveals

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New research reveals Māori are three times more likely to die from an overdose than non-Māori. Image / Supplied

A new report released today says Māori are three times more likey to die from a drug and alcohol overdose and highlights the need for a by Māori for Māori policy approach.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation report charts the non-intentional overdose deaths in Aotearoa between 2017 and 2021.

The analysis of coronial data shows an increase in fatal overdoses, which is not accounted for by the population growth over this period.

Māori Public Health organisation Hāpai Te Hauora says the NZ Drug Foundation report highlights concerning outcomes for Māori that must be proactively addressed in any policy response or risk worsening inequities.

“We commend the NZ Drug Foundation for raising awareness of these issues and reporting on key ethnicity data which show our people are three times more likely to to die of an overdose than non-Māori,” Hapai CEO Selah Hart said.

She said public health efforts to reduce the risk of overdose deaths will worsen inequities for Māori if they are not Māori-led, incorporate mātauranga Māori, community leadership and are funded adequatly.

Hapai Te Hauora CEO Selah Hart. Photo / Supplied
Hapai Te Hauora CEO Selah Hart. Photo / Supplied

“We know from the literature on public health interventions that, when one-size-fits-all approaches are applied, efficacy for the general population often worsens inequities for Māori,” Hart said.

“We see non-Māori positively impacted by these policies while Māori are left behind, creating an even bigger gap. This must not be allowed to happen in overdose prevention; best practice public health means ensuring the most affected population receives an appropriate amount of support.”

As key signatories to the “Pass The Bill” community campagin to reform alcohol law in Aoteara through support for the Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill, Hāpai chief operations officer Janell Dymus-Kurei was unsurprised to see an increasing number of alcohol overdose deaths in the report.

Alcohol was second only to opioids in the total deaths which were able to be attributed to a single substance, and was a contributing factor in almost half of the closed overdose fatality cases where a mix of substances were implicated.

“It is important to highlight the role of alcohol in these deaths, as many New Zealanders underestimate the harm of this drug, and wouldn’t even think of alcohol as a drug in the same category as cannabis or cocaine,” Dymus-Kurei said.

“This is a stark reminder of the potential harm from this under-regulated, widely available drug.”

Hāpai Te Hauora supports the key recommendations of the NZ Drug Foundation, and urges that Māori are prioritised in all actions undertaken.

The report recommends several interventions and policy changes to reduce overdose fatalities, including:

• The establishment of an Overdose Prevention Centre pilot.
• Funding to make overdose reversal medicine naloxone freely available to at-risk communities.
• Replacing the Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach, as recommended in the Law Commission’s 2011 review.
• Implementing the findings of the Law Commission’s 2010 review of the Sale and Supply of Liquor Act.
• Better training for communities and health professionals.
• More harm-reduction information.

Where to get help:

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

• Youth services: (06) 3555 906

• Youthline: 0800 376 633

• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)

• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

• Helpline: 1737

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111,

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