Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

P war: Police warn of 'second wave' of methamphetamine hitting New Zealand

Police Association boss says major busts failing to impact price or availability.
Detective Paul Baker holds 83g of crystal methamphetamine, worth $83,000. Photo / Greg Bowker
Detective Paul Baker holds 83g of crystal methamphetamine, worth $83,000. Photo / Greg Bowker

New Zealand is facing a "second wave" of a dangerous methamphetamine problem as the illicit drug becomes cheaper and more readily available.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said despite several big drug busts in recent months, anecdotal evidence from front line officers suggested the country now had a greater problem with the drug than ever before.

"I've done a tour throughout the country speaking to police officers from North Cape to Bluff and to sum it up, it's all about P.

"Methamphetamine is, in many places, easier to get hold of than cannabis. Police officers' informants are telling them that they go around trying to score cannabis and they can't get it - but people are offering them P.''

Police announced yesterday they had seized $17 million worth of the drug following a seven-month investigation. And in June almost $500 million worth of meth was discovered in Kaitaia - the biggest P haul in New Zealand history.

But O'Connor said despite such significant stings, they seemingly had no impact on the price - or availability - of the drug.

"We've got a major issue,'' he said.

"We're having a second wave now.''
"The first wave was at the end of the 90s. It sort of caught New Zealand by surprise - the policies were way behind.

"The legacy of the first wave was well entrenched organised crime. And now, that organised crime has created this new market.''

O'Connor's comments follow yesterday's $17 million meth haul seized following a joint investigation by Counties Manukau Police and Customs.

A total of 17kg of meth was found after a seven-month investigation into the alleged importing of methamphetamine by a member of the Thailand Chapter of a motorcycle gang known as Bandidos.

As well as the drug haul, about $150,000 worth of jewellery and $200,000 of cash was also seized.

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Three men aged 28, 31 and 54, appeared in the Manukau District Court in relation to the bust.

Detective Senior Sergeant Albie Alexander, of the Counties Manukau organised crime unit, said the seizure and work carried out sent a message that officers were working hard to disrupt the supply chain of the illicit drug.

"Methamphetamine is a significant driver of crime in New Zealand. It ruins lives, destroys families and does enormous damage to our communities,'' Alexander said.

Customs manager investigations, Maurice O'Brien, said: "This operation is another example of how working in partnership can achieve positive results for both agencies and also for the public by keeping this awful drug off our streets."

The Ministry of Health's New Zealand Drug Harm Index 2016 reported amphetamines - which include P - had the third highest number of dependent users -1400 (4.7 per cent) of 29,900 drug users around the country.

They had the fourth highest number of casual users - 24,300 (6.7 per cent of all drug users) of 358,100 .

Dr Christopher Wilkins, Massey University senior researcher of illegal drugs, said a gram of methamphetamine now cost about $650. In previous years, the same amount cost about $850.

"I think it's...a battle of attrition. A lot of countries have problems with methamphetamine and it's not an easy problem to impact.

"I think the issue in the last few years is that the worldwide supply - or the Asia-Pacific supply - of methamphetamine has increased quite a lot. That means there's more supply to New Zealand and Australia."

Asked whether we had made a dent in the war against P, O'Connor replied: "It doesn't appear so.''

More rehabilitation services were needed for those battling meth addiction.

A shortage of organised crime policing, particularly in the provinces, was also a problem, he said. A police spokeswoman said law enforcement agencies worldwide were facing problems with meth.

"But stamping out meth is not police's job alone. It requires law enforcement and social agencies to work together. That's what we're doing under the Prime Minister's Meth Action Plan.

She also noted work around the Government's gang action plan aimed at targeting and dismantling gang activity.

"These are all valuable multi-agency tools that help us to combat meth in NZ. We've had some great results so far, but we recognise there's still more work to be done."

In a statement, Police Minister Judith Collins said police and Customs were continuing to disrupt the drug trade and when adding recent drug busts, they were seizing more than ever before.

"Police, Government, social services all have a part to play in reducing harm drugs have on our community.''

- NZ Herald

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