Pubdate: Wed, 22 Nov 2006
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2006 New Zealand Herald
Author: Simon Collins


Tuari Potiki reckons he knows from his own experience why Maori are 
twice as likely as other New Zealanders to get hooked on drink and drugs.

Mr Potiki, now the South Island manager of the Alcohol Advisory 
Council, ended up in the hospital for addicts at Hanmer Springs by 
the time he was 28.

An analysis of a Health Ministry survey of almost 13,000 people, to 
be presented at a treatment centres' conference in Auckland today, 
shows he was not unusual.

Just over a quarter (26.5 per cent) of all Maori in the survey had 
had substance use disorders some time in their lives - twice the 
national average of 12.3 per cent.

One in every 15 Maori (6.7 per cent) had "abused" alcohol in the past 
year alone, compared with the national average of only one in 40 (2.6 
per cent).

"Abuse" was defined as drinking which involved repeated failure to 
fulfil obligations at work, home or school, drinking while driving or 
operating machinery, drink-related criminal offending, or continued 
drinking despite resulting problems such as fights or domestic arguments.

About half these numbers also abused other drugs in the past year - 
3.7 per cent of Maori against a national average of 1.2 per cent.

National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman, who will present the 
figures at the Australasian Therapeutic Communities Association 
conference, said that even after allowing for relative Maori 
youthfulness and poverty, they were still twice as likely to abuse 
drink and drugs as others of the same age and wealth.

Mr Potiki, a cousin of Ngai Tahu chief executive Tahu Potiki, who 
yesterday announced his resignation, said it was no accident that the 
same pattern of people drinking themselves into oblivion occurred 
among Australian Aboriginals and Native Americans.

"The similarities are too close to be coincidence," he said. "That 
does make you think."

He grew up in a drinking family and started drinking with his mates 
when he left school.

"That was just what you did. You ended up believing the only way you 
could have fun was with alcohol or drugs," he said.

"I'm a classic in some ways. I had glue ear. I went deaf, I couldn't 
hear anything at school.

"I had an accident when I was 7 and couldn't see out of one eye. I 
got classed as a troublemaker. It wasn't till later that I realised 
it was because I couldn't hear or see anything.

"I left school at 13 believing I'm dumb, I'm only ever going to be a 
labourer, and labourers work hard and play hard and away you go.

"Had there been better intervention or monitoring or detection, if 
people had been looking for what some of the causes could have been 
rather than just saying, 'He's bad', it could have been different."

Mr Potiki was sent to Hanmer by a judge, which saved him.

"It was either go to treatment or go to jail."

Today he has a postgraduate qualification and a good job, but he 
worries that young people like him will miss out because Hanmer and 
many other residential treatment centres have closed down.

"Maori kids are still being tagged as being troublemakers or 
disruptive. On their own, they are not. I don't believe that stuff is 
inherent or genetic.

"You are a product of your environment. If those behaviours are 
manifesting, there are reasons that need to be looked at. If we make 
a difference earlier, then maybe we can end up getting somewhere."
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