Prisoner meth use up in Whangarei

By Mikaela Collins

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Up to 8 per cent of the prisoners were using the drug when they were arrested.
Up to 8 per cent of the prisoners were using the drug when they were arrested.

A survey which shows more Whangarei prisoners are using methamphetamine confirms stories that supply has increased and there is a huge P problem in Northland which could get worse, a drug expert says.

Massey University's 2015 New Zealand Arrestee Drug Use Monitoring Programme Report, funded by police, interviewed 835 detainees at four police station watch houses - Whangarei, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch - and looked at nearly 200 urine samples.

From Whangarei 169 prisoners were interviewed. The survey showed 56 per cent of the detainees used methamphetamine and 8 per cent were using the drug when they were arrested.

Ross Bell, the New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director, said there was a meth problem in Northland which was evident following two major meth busts in the region - 494kg of methamphetamine seized on Ninety Mile Beach and Totara North in June and another big bust in December 2014 on Taipuha Rd at Waiotira - and internal gang violence.

"In Northland we've been hearing supply has increased and there is a particular problem in Northland. There have been huge meth busts and gang-related [crime]."

Mr Bell said it was possible the statistics for 2016 would show another increase in methamphetamine use in Northland.

"I think we will see an increase but also a bit later we could see a decline. We're pretty confident when adequate treatment is provided in the community you can go a long way to reduce the problem," he said.

The survey also showed 49 per cent of people who were detained at the Whangarei Police Station cells found it very easy to find P in Northland while the price of a "point" (0.1g) of meth had declined from $118 in 2012 to $100 in 2015. The cost of a gram of meth in Whangarei was the cheapest among the four areas surveyed at $599.

"It looks like the price Northland is paying is what Auckland paid - it used to be provincial New Zealand paid more. I think that would largely be a consequence of increase supply and the price coming down," Mr Bell said

The survey showed people detained in Whangarei overall found cannabis was stable/more difficult to get.

"We're hearing it's [meth] more available than cannabis. We also hear they are being sold at tinny houses - if you have meth sold where people get cannabis, you might see experimentation," Mr Bell said.

Prime Minister John Key announced last month that $3 million seized from criminals under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act will go towards a joint police and Ministry of Health initiative to reduce methamphetamine demand in Northland.

Mr Ross said this programme was a step in the right direction.

"I think we're finally beginning to understand in New Zealand that we're never going to arrest our way out of the meth problem but we can be doing clever things with police. They're on the front line, they're the one's dealing with people who are in real trouble," he said.

National Manager Organised Crime, Detective Superintendent Virginia Le Bas, said methamphetamine was a concern for police throughout New Zealand, and Northland was no different.

"As it is an illegal drug, people do not discuss it freely. This makes usage levels difficult to measure accurately across the wider population. People who deal in methamphetamine are capitalising on the vulnerabilities of others, and police encourage anyone who is affected by this drug to reach out and ask for help."

Whangarei prisoner drug use - 169 interviewed:

• 56% used - median age first used: 20
• 37% used in past 12 months
• 10% injected in the past 12 months
• 26% felt dependent in past 12 months
• 22% used in the past 12 months
• 8% of prisoners were using meth at the time of arrest

Current mean price paid by police detainees for a "point" (0.1g) and gram of methamphetamine:

• Whangarei: $100 for a point and $599 for a gram
• Auckland Central: $103 for a point and $636 for a gram
• Wellington Central: $106 for a point and $607 for a gram
• Christchurch Central: $126 for a point and $822 for a gram

- Northern Advocate

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