Sonya is a social issues reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Stun gun, machete found at Bay meth lab

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Thirty-two meth labs have been uncovered in the Western Bay of Plenty since 2011. Photo/File
Thirty-two meth labs have been uncovered in the Western Bay of Plenty since 2011. Photo/File

Thirty-two meth labs have been uncovered in the Western Bay in the past five years, with at least 12 found since 2015.

Information released to the Bay of Plenty Times by the National Drug Intelligence Bureau under the Official Information Act showed from 2011 to September 2016, there were 32 methamphetamine manufacturing laboratories found in the Western Bay of Plenty.

There were nine located last year and three have been found so far this year.

Manufacturing chemicals were found at all but four of the 32 labs, and weapons and firearms were found at eight labs.

At one lab, busted in Tauranga in 2015, police discovered chemicals, a baton, a stun gun and a machete.

Kirk Hardy, chief executive of The Drug Detection Agency, said the numbers were not surprising and were actually lower than he would have expected, but the nature of clandestine meth labs was exactly that - clandestine, and therefore hard to find.

"Without scaremongering, there's a lot more out there that haven't been found.

"A lot of the labs are mobile, a lot of labs are going into hotel, motel rooms, sometimes campervans or garages etc. They move around quite a bit."

He said there was a "heightened attitude" towards meth at the moment and people had a sense things were getting bad with violent crimes becoming more common and higher volumes of other crimes like burglary.

"That does go hand in hand with a meth problem. Unfortunately, I don't think we have the rehab services to help those people with those drug issues. Until we can address that, we can't reduce the demand."

MethSolutions director Miles Stratford said the biggest challenge with meth labs was their mobility.

"You could have a situation where there are 32 properties where labs have been found - but how many properties were those labs operating in?

"It's a hidden issue. Nobody really knows. You just know that it goes on more than you think."

Mr Stratford said even if those 32 labs found were 100 per cent of all labs in operation, there would have been more than 32 properties impacted by manufacturing.

He said about 42 to 43 per cent of Bay houses tested came back positive and about half of those recorded levels that suggested manufacturing had taken place.

Ross Bell, executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, said the meth market was constantly changing. Back in the mid-2000s, there was more of a focus on domestic manufacturing, which saw police visiting chemists advising them to be careful selling cold and flu tablets.

Now, the focus had moved to pseudoephedrine being imported in large quantities, and the final product also coming across the border. This could have contributed to the fluctuating numbers of labs being found in the Bay.

Changing police priorities could also impact the numbers as the focus changed from clandestine labs to trafficking and large-scale dealing.

Mr Bell said the only way he believed meth use would decrease was to offer more treatment services.

"The market can respond quite swiftly. If the police take out a couple of dealers in town, more can take their place pretty quickly.

"The focus should be on reducing demand. Reduce demand by additional treatment."

Western Bay of Plenty police Area Commander Inspector Clifford Paxton said that methamphetamine had a detrimental impact on the community, both in terms of the level of violence and in victimisation.

"We would encourage anyone who believes illicit drugs are being manufactured in their community to report it to police," Mr Paxton said.

"We need the public's help in keeping our communities safe. We rely on information from all corners of society to prevent harm through the misuse of drugs or any other crime."

Mr Paxton said police were working with a number of partner agencies to increase awareness, so people wee informed of the impact meth had on whanau and the wider community.

"We're also seeking to empower our people to make a stand in terms of not accepting meth as a part of our community."

By the numbers

2016 (to September 11) - 3 labs uncovered in the Western Bay

2015 - 9 labs

2014 - 3 labs

2013 - 3 labs

2012 - 11 labs

2011 - 3 labs

- National Drug Intelligence Bureau


How to identify a potential meth lab

Strange smells, fumes and vapour escaping from windows or ventilators, sealed windows and premises being used for purposes other than normal, are some of the signs that indicate premises may be being used as a clan lab.

Exposure to chemicals found in clan labs can cause various symptoms including headaches, watery or burning eyes, nausea, burning skin, coughing or choking, diaphragm pain, feeling of coldness or weakness, shortness of breath or dizziness, decreased cognitive function, vertigo and convulsions.

- Inspector Clifford Paxton

- Bay of Plenty Times

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