Kiri is a digital journalist for bayofplentytimes.co.nz.

Tauranga's 'obscene' meth problem

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More than a million dollars of methamphetamine has been seized by police in the Bay of Plenty already this year, nearly four times as many for all of 2015.

In figures released to the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend under the Official Information Act, the National Drug Intelligence Bureau revealed a total of 1939.21kg of meth was seized by police from January to September this year - a value of at least $1,163,526.

For all of last year, police seized 508.83g of meth, also known as P, which tallied to at least $305,298. Police also collected 46.35kg ($572,232.47) of cannabis so far this year, compared to 80.05kg ($993,844.95) in 2015.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said the scale of methamphetamine use in the Bay was 'obscene'.

''We have a meth problem in Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty. We've got to be ever vigilant on it because those who peddle it are not some sort of misunderstood people who just need help.

They are peddlers of misery,'' Mr Bridges said.

''We see a huge amount of growth in Tauranga that's got a lot of positive sides to it, but a negative is you become a bit more attractive to the criminal fraternity as they see a bit more of a market for their wares.''

Mr Bridges said during his career as a lawyer, he became familiar with many of the local police officers that worked to reduce the amount of meth in the community. He said they were incredible men and women with great experience and expertise.

"This should give us confidence that they are catching the baddies,'' he said.

''I encourage everyone who has a sort of sense of those around them getting caught up in this to do everything you can to pull them from the fire. Once you're in, you're inevitably going to be sucked into a criminal world which is more than drugs, it's intimidation, debt collecting and violence.''

Lindsay Smith, also known as Red, helps families coping with the fallout of having a loved one addicted. The Tauranga police senior constable helped set up a support group outside of the police called Brave Hearts, and said he had experienced an increase in demand for his services this year.

''The volumes are increasing. It's as simple as that. The intelligence I receive outside of the police is that meth is getting cheaper and of a better quality. That's causing problems,'' Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith was currently helping upwards of 50 families through Brave Hearts. They came to him either through the group, off the street, or from referrals.

Mr Smith believed some of the increase was due to his higher profile after his work was featured in a Bay of Plenty Times Weekend report on Tauranga's meth problem earlier this year. But he said there were so many people who had never heard of him.

''It [meth] creates such a problem for families. They cause a lot of heart break. That's where we step in. All I do is provide the parents with skills.''

New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell said meth was a "scourge" and he was not surprised by the high amount found in the Bay.

"It's a real problem - we need to crack down heavily on organised crime, particularly the gangs, and attack the supply.

"We need to invest heavily into the police force to increase front line numbers."

National Drug Intelligence Bureau co-ordinator John O'Keeffe said meth was cheaply made, often bought overseas and was of high value on the streets. A gram of meth could cost upwards of about $600.

''Every amount of methamphetamine that is not on the streets helps, but the wider issue is to ask what is drawing users to want this drug. Enforcement alone cannot solve the methamphetamine problem.''

The bureau is a joint operation of New Zealand Customs, Ministry of Health and the police.

Mr O'Keeffe said police and agencies worked hard to disrupt supply but also to disrupt demand. During a recent operation, police called the phone contacts of a drug offender and offered them support with meth problems, assuring they would not be prosecuted.

''All of this work is focused on reducing the demand for methamphetamine as working to reduce the supply of this drug cannot be successful on its own,'' Mr O'Keeffe said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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