Registered addiction practitioners have been signed off by the Health Minister to be regarded as health professionals under the new Substance Addiction Act, says their association and registration body.
The Substance Addiction (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 2017 was passed by parliament at the start of the year and comes into effect in February 2018. The new Act replaces the more than 50-year-old Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966 and helps streamline the compulsory treatment order process for people with severe alcohol or drug addiction.
Sue Paton, the executive director of the Drug and Alcohol Practitioners Association Aotearoa New Zealand (dapaanz) said the designation process for recognition under the new Substance Addiction Act – that had to go through the Ministry of Health and was signed off by Health Minister David Clark this week – had been robust.
“It confirms practitioners registered by dapaanz, because of their expertise in treating people with addiction, are equivalent to those designated (e.g. doctors, nurses and psychologists) under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance (HPCA) Act 2003,” said Paton.
“This is great news, but not just for those who may need compulsory treatment because they have become too impaired by substance use to make their own decisions around their addiction,” she said. “The Government’s recognition of equivalence means the way is (also) now clear to address issues such as pay inequity that have dis-incentivised much of the addiction practitioner workforce in recent years.”
Paton said it also meant that some district health boards that had not employed addiction practitioners in the past, because of them not being covered by the HPCA Act, would no longer have any grounds to do so as practitioners were now designated under the new Substance Addiction Act.
“This is about professionalisation. Our addiction practitioners have the same qualifications and do extremely valuable and important work with the potential to have a more positive impact than any other sector for individuals and families, and across communities.
She added that the Government would also need to attract and retain qualified and experienced people if it wanted to improve addiction treatment options.
Paton said there was already a big pool of potential practitioners who could move to the addiction sector “with very little fuss”. People can become registered and get a job in an addiction service if they are qualified in an allied profession (e.g. nursing, counselling and/or social work, etc) by gaining a Level 7 addiction-specific qualification.
“Attracting just 100 people from the allied workforce would change the face of addiction treatment in New Zealand. We see great benefit in some funding being allocated to support allied workers wanting to make such a move,” said Paton.
She said the Government addressing pay inequity for addiction practitioners would also help boost the workforce and help achieve better treatment results. Starting salaries for practitioners can be below $40,000 and she said even qualified and experienced practitioners earned significantly less than their peers in the health and other sectors. Also practitioners working in non-government organisation earned 10-20 percent less than those working in district health boards (DHBs), even though they do similar work.
Paton said the Association had been registering qualified addiction practitioners since 2002 and has 1500 members including registered alcohol and drug practitioners, gambling practitioners and addiction peer support workers. She said the majority of the addiction sector’s workforce are not covered by the HPCA Act 2003.
Registered drug and alcohol practitioners
Requirements to become a dapaanz registered addiction practitioner include:
- An applied bachelor’s degree (or higher) in addiction studies or a related applied health/social science degree (e.g. nursing, social work, counselling).
- Six months post-qualification experience as an addiction practitioner under the supervision of an accredited clinical supervisor is required before applying for provisional registration
- To apply for full registration a practitioner must have competed at least a further 12 months of clinical work as a provisionally registered practitioner under supervision and (if have a non-addictions specific degree) have also completed an approved graduate level or postgraduate addictions qualification.
- To maintain registration practitioners must undergo a yearly renewal process including proof of ongoing professional development.