Growing seizures of drug points to its popularity.

Police have revealed exactly how many drugs are being pulled off the streets - and cocaine looks to be making a comeback.

Figures released to the Weekend Herald show 5469 grams of cocaine was seized by police up to August this year, much higher than in previous years.

Methamphetamine and Ecstasy have dropped away, while the emergence of "unknown powders" seized by police and Customs has increased substantially in the last year.

Massey University researcher Dr Chris Wilkins said the amounts of cocaine discovered were still low, however it appeared to be growing in popularity.


"The first thing to note with seizures, is often the larger seizures are made in transit. In New Zealand there hasn't been a traditionally big cocaine market. There is a much bigger market in Australia - specifically New South Wales and Sydney."

In the past New Zealand and other Pacific countries are used as transit points, he said.

"It seems there is some evidence that cocaine is more common in New Zealand now, but it doesn't seem to be at the point yet of having any mass market."

Overseas evidence is cocaine was used as an alternative to methamphetamine but where that drug was strong, such as in New Zealand, cocaine use was usually lower.

"You can see that clearly in the US [where] a lot of states near the sea and south have cocaine and further in the Midwest it's methamphetamine and that has issues about supply and purity."

New Zealand's "big meth market" might be the case that precludes anything big happening with cocaine.

"But almost definitely cocaine in New Zealand is in a different market than methamphetamine [because] you have more effect for the money spent [on P] than cocaine, so that's one of the reasons it probably outdoes it, because particularly in New Zealand it is very expensive."

An added problem for cocaine-users was the drug cost up to $350 a gram and purity was not always that reliable, he said.

He believed its increased popularity could be partly attributed to more Kiwis coming into contact with the drug in Australia or the United Kingdom.

In March this year police arrested an Australian couple linked to an international drug syndicate and the discovery of 2kg of cocaine on a "drug courier" - drugs worth over $1.5 million once they had been cut and distributed.

Also this year, up to 1kg of cocaine in bottles of tequila were found on an American tourist who had made several trips to the country.

Customs staff thought the amount of cocaine suggested the smuggler must have had networks in place to sell the drug.

Dr Wilkins believed the reputation of the drugs had changed substantially in recent years.

"The reputation of methamphetamine has been in decline for some time - it's seen as a dirty drug, a lower socio-economic drug ... I think that's very clear in a lot of people's mind, given the association with crime and downfalls of certain people."

That view was considerably different than when methamphetamine was linked with the dance party scene in the early 2000s and it could be partly behind the rise in cocaine use.

"Cocaine in powder form has more of an upscale image and people who use it in New Zealand are a fairly wealthy, connected group." However the amount being seized would not be enough to supply a regular market.

Detective Inspector Stuart Mills, of the National Drug Intelligence Bureau, agreed New Zealand had been used as a transit country. "However, as [domestic] demand for cocaine grows, this may change."

Cocaine was far more available worldwide. "Australia is being targeted by organised crime groups attempting to broaden the market."

Mr Mills said police had seized 48kg of unknown powders so far this year while Customs had seized 273kg. The powder could then be turned into Ecstasy-type tablets which had led to the changes in the illicit drug market.