Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

P trade impervious to crackdown, say police

Intelligence report warns hard line hasn't made a dent in local P market.

An estimated 677kg of methamphetamine is consumed each year. Photo / Paul Taylor
An estimated 677kg of methamphetamine is consumed each year. Photo / Paul Taylor

Increased efforts by the Government and law enforcement to tackle the country's methamphetamine problem have failed to dent the drug trade, according to a classified police report.

The price, purity and availability of the Class A drug have remained relatively stable since new legislation was announced in 2009 - including a ban on medicines containing pseudoephedrine - following a Herald series called the War on P.

A police intelligence document obtained by the Weekend Herald says the "entrenched" methamphetamine market appears to have stabilised but at a high level.

An estimated 677kg is consumed each year. Nearly 75 per cent is consumed by 11 per cent of "heavy" users.

"Despite the increased focus across Government, law enforcement and industry to minimise methamphetamine related harms, there does not seem to be a discernible change in the drug's domestic popularity and availability," according to the National Strategic Assessment paper.

The classified document informs police leadership of where to target resources in areas of concern. The actual advice was redacted from the version provided to the Herald.

The amount of methamphetamine and pseudoephedrine - the main ingredient to make P - seized by Customs and police has decreased in recent years. But this is more likely to be the result of new smuggling methods and routes, warns the report.

Similarly the reason that fewer clandestine laboratories used to manufacture methamphetamine have been discovered is because the "cooks" have changed their modus operandi to avoid detection.

"The manufacture, supply and trafficking routes of methamphetamine and its precursors continue to adapt and evolve in response to law enforcement operations and legislative change both here and overseas," the report states.

"An expanding range of criminal groups based offshore continue to target New Zealand for importations of methamphetamine and precursors, given New Zealand is likely perceived as a profitable market for such products."

There was also a concern that local criminals would increasingly seek to import methamphetamine if the availability and supply of precursors for manufacture decreases.

"This may lead to greater collaboration with other transnational criminal groups, such as Mexican drug cartels, who may be looking to expand globally."

Crime syndicates from China and Hong Kong - where pseudoephedrine is easy to obtain in cold medicine - working with local gangs have been targeted most by organised crime detectives.

Iran and West Africa are source countries where methamphetamine can be purchased for as little as $5000 a kg - worth $1 million at street level in New Zealand.

Another intelligence report warns that crime syndicates will mass-manufacture P on isolated Pacific islands to be shipped to remote spots on the New Zealand coast and distributed by gang networks.

The warning that Government efforts to fight the methamphetamine trade have failed to make a discernible dent is backed up from other official reports.

Prime Minister John Key set up a working group across several government departments and the most recent progress report showed little had changed in the price, purity and availability of methamphetamine.

Before becoming a National Party MP, former drug squad detective and policy specialist Mike Sabin said that if the price, purity and availability of the drug remained little changed, "that would indicate to me that the market is still pretty stable".

"What you're looking for is quite significant shifts," he told the Herald in 2010. "A doubling of the price or a halving of purity would be a respectable result."

NZ Drug Foundation director Ross Bell said the report was in contrast to other government papers showing methamphetamine use had dropped. He said Ministry of Health research showed methamphetamine use had dropped by more than half in the past three years.

He said it also contrasted with data in a report to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which had oversight of the War of P.

"There is a still a market and it is a market which is supplying entrenched use. That is going to be solved by making sure those long- term, hard-core users are going to be provided treatment. The ability for law enforcement to make an impact has reduced."

Mr Bell said police intelligence reports would be sourced from detectives who worked in areas where abuse and supply was concentrated. He said the perspective would not give a rounded view of the diminished scale of the problem.

Hard slog in war on P

Price:
The mean price of a gram of methamphetamine increased from $600 in 2007 to $800 in 2011, but went down to $685 last year. The mean price of a point (0.1g) remains relatively stable at $100.

Availability:
The current perceived availability of methamphetamine remains easy/very easy. Almost all police reporting suggests that methamphetamine remains widely and easily available.

-Additional staff reporting

- NZ Herald

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