SDHB has no evidence of drug issues in region

Malcolm Inglis.
Malcolm Inglis.
The Southern District Health Board has no documented evidence of problems with class A and B drugs in Wanaka, despite police reports of a serious drug culture in the resort and a major drug-bust last year.

A five-month undercover investigation in the Wanaka area, dubbed Operation Viking, culminated in the arrests of nine local men in early December for alleged large-scale dealings in LSD, ecstasy and cannabis.

Police said the drug-dealing had wrecked residents' lives, causing mental health issues and financial ruin in some cases.

At the time, SDHB Central Otago alcohol and drug clinician Julie Scurr said privacy issues prevented her from providing any details on how pervasive drug use was in the Wanaka area or whether it was a growing problem.

Under the Official Information Act, the Otago Daily Times subsequently asked the SDHB for any documentation relating to problems with LSD and ecstasy or other class A or B drugs during the past two years in the Wanaka area.

Eight weeks later - after the health board made extensions under the Act because the information requested was ''still being collated'' - a one-line response was provided yesterday by executive director of patient services Lexie O'Shea.

It stated: ''There is no documentation on this subject during this time period.''

Southern district organised crime squad head Detective Senior Sergeant Malcolm Inglis maintained yesterday there ''certainly has been a problem'' with drugs in Wanaka in recent years.

''I'm sure they [DHB] are seeing people in that area with drug addictions,'' he said.

''We believe ... from anecdotal evidence, that throughout Queenstown and Wanaka there's a drug problem within the transient population ... and we've seen it and we've certainly received regular information in relation to that.''

That information had come from people living within the community who had been involved in the drug scene or had recently got out of it.

Det Snr Sgt Inglis said it was possible the effects of the drug-dealing were not being reported to health authorities.

''It depends what people tell them ... when they go in there. They may not well say `Look I've been taking this, this and this and I've been psyched out or whatever, or depression's been caused'.

''Quite a few of the people will be transient, too. We're aware that one person [who had been living in Wanaka] who was affected by drugs presented in Christchurch ... you do get quite a few people who will come and then maybe withdraw from the area ... and may present somewhere else.''

He said it was difficult to tell yet how much of an impact last year's drug bust had made on Wanaka's drug problem.

''We don't get right to the bottom of it, obviously, there's always people willing to step up and try and fill the gaps again.''

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz