Addressing the meth problem

Methamphetamine is the drug of choice for many in New Zealand, according to wastewater testing....
Methamphetamine seems to be becoming cheaper and more readily available. Photo: NZ Herald
There is increasing concern about the level of methamphetamine use in our rural communities as the drug becomes cheaper and apparently more readily available.

In recent months, this newspaper has carried news stories about meth consumption in North, Central and South Otago, a pattern which is depressingly familiar around the country.

Although there have been some large drug busts, the supply of methamphetamine from overseas, at what has been described as market saturation levels, continues. Increased gang numbers have assisted in the distribution expansion.

Results from the New Zealand Drug Trends Survey last month showed meth prices in Otago for 2018-19 were lower than the previous year, but at a median price of $550 a gram, still $100 more than the record low prices being paid in Auckland, Waikato and Wellington. In the early part of this century, a gram cost $1000.

As the Massey University researchers point out, declining prices can stimulate higher consumption and more harmful use, particularly among at-risk groups including youth, dependent users, low socio-economic groups and first-time users.

They say the cost of manufacturing an illegal drug may be just 1% of its street value with more than two-thirds of the price made up of compensation for the risk of arrest and victimisation.

While tobacco and alcohol remain the two substances which cause the most harm in New Zealand, the fact that they are both legal (albeit with restrictions) means they do not carry the same stigma or provoke the same horror and outrage as illegal drugs such as methamphetamine.

Although there may be some black-market tobacco and alcohol, addicts do not have to deal with criminals and all that might involve, to buy them.

Tobacco kills about 5000 New Zealanders each year and deaths linked to alcohol are estimated at between 800 and 1000. (Concern remains about the lack of a national plan to tackle harm from alcohol.)

Methamphetamine deaths are on the rise. Stuff reported last month that 64 deaths had been linked to methamphetamine in slightly less than five years. Seven deaths were recorded in 2015 and by 2018 there were 21.

It is likely that these figures may not necessarily represent every death directly caused by methamphetamine and, with any substance harm, deaths are only part of the story.

If you are in a community standing on the sidelines watching the mayhem of increased meth use unfold, it may be hard not to just throw up your hands in horror because making an impact seems all too difficult.

That is not the South Otago way. The community has earned kudos for its open and health-centred approach to the problem.

Clutha District Mayor Bryan Cadogan said his council's stance is to confront the issue, openly acknowledge it and then try to put the support around communities and those directly affected.

Hats off to the young people in his community, too. Mr Cadogan said he was in awe of the work being done by the Clutha Youth Council which had seen first-hand the issue and how it can affect all of society.

Addiction treatment and education are the emphases and the police are using discretion when dealing with those addicted to or using the drug, on a case-by-case basis, attempting to get them treatment rather than pursue them through the courts.

Finding adequate services for those with alcohol and other drug addictions when and where people need them is one of the issues facing the country which can be of particular concern in rural communities. In Clutha, money has been sought from the Proceeds of Crime fund and police are also working with social services and non- government organisations on this. This comprehensive and sensible approach to the meth problem is commendable. Success may not be instant, but this determined community deserves every support.


police should act on information on P use they don't in my town/


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