Jordan Bond is a reporter for NZME's Local Network.

Meth use not increasing, say Sallies

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Salvation Army Tauranga said the rise in methamphetamine use is not even close to the public perception of it. Photo/FILE
Salvation Army Tauranga said the rise in methamphetamine use is not even close to the public perception of it. Photo/FILE

A Tauranga alcohol and drug support service says it has not seen an increase in the numbers of meth users seeking help - and police figures show only a slight increase in the number of people being prosecuted.

Manager of Tauranga's Salvation Army Bridge and Oasis programme Daryl Wesley said contrary to public perception, he and others working in drug and addiction support in the region haven't seen a rise in use of the drug.

"What we're seeing here in Tauranga as a community service is the number of meth users has not gone up," Mr Wesley said. "When I talk to other providers - significant players in the industry - they would all concur with what I'm saying.

"We are not seeing the numbers increase."

Police data released to the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act showed prosecution numbers this year for methamphetamine and amphetamine use or possession were tracking lower than 2015's total, but were around eight prosecutions more than the average number since 2009 - 56 against 48.

Police were on track to lay 32 charges for dealing or trafficking methamphetamine in 2016, fewer than each of the previous three years' totals of 36, 35 and 90.

Mr Wesley made it clear methamphetamine was definitely a problem in the Bay, but he said it wasn't as significant as it was made out to be.

"We've got a P problem - of course we've got a P problem - but it's not growing exponentially, no. It's in line with police figures."

Police replaced its official statistics with a new system in 2014, and cautioned the statistical series over time was not directly comparable with earlier figures.

Prime Minister John Key last week announced a $15 million funding injection to tackle methamphetamine.

This money was split between stemming the supply of the drug and its precursors, as well as expanding and strengthening health treatment programmes to reduce the demand.

Executive director of the Drug Foundation Ross Bell said putting money toward treating drug addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal issue was a positive step.

However, the next day the Government announced a $1 billion prison plan to show it was "deadly serious" on cracking down on methamphetamine and violent crime.

"There's a lot of us, to put it politely, quite upset by the significant contrast shown between the $15m [for methamphetamine] and the $1b [on the prison], and there's a lot of us in the wider health and social sector whose jaws are still dropped - how can this $1b on a prison be true?" Mr Bell said.

"You're not going to ever police away a health issue. Prison is the last place you should send people with mental health and addiction issues."

Mr Bell said 40 per cent of the prison population was incarcerated for drug crime.

"Police are beginning to put more focus on referring people to help rather than processing them through the criminal justice system. We want them to actually formalise some of those things a bit more and make them a nationwide system."

Western Bay Area Commander Inspector Clifford Paxton said police saw "significant challenges" in organised crime, meth and firearms in the Western Bay.

"We're identifying a number of people who are involved in the sale and distribution of meth, and work continues in that area.

"One of the key partners we are working with is health - in particular, iwi health providers - to look at options for creating awareness, empowerment and support."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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