Buying methamphetamine in Northland is as easy as going into a dairy and buying a block of butter, says an experienced criminal lawyer.
A Massey University study has found methamphetamine, also know as P, is much easier to access than cannabis and in Northland a third of those surveyed revealed they could buy the drug in 20 minutes or less.
The aim of the country's first anonymous online Drug Trends Survey, which was completed by 6100 people, was to backup anecdotal evidence on the availability of meth and encourage the Government to prioritise support services for meth addicts.
Lawyer Dave Sayes has 37 years working in the region's criminal justice system as a defence lawyer, mostly at Kaitaia and Whangarei courts. He has seen the changing drug use and the damage methamphetamine has had on individuals, families and communities.
Methamphetamine was now the drug of choice and was easily purchased, Mr Sayes said.
Mr Sayes had seen drug activity in Northland go from growing large outdoor cannabis crops of about 1500 plants, to indoor operations after police started using helicopters and planes to detect crops.
He described methamphetamine as a "pernicious drug" that thanks to gangs had now become a more popular drug which was harder to detect by authorities.
"There used to be numerous cannabis cases before the courts now the position is it's very rare to get cannabis cases and it's all about methamphetamine possession, supply and possession of utensils to smoke meth. Most of these offences are detected as a result of text messaging."
He was not surprised by the survey results and said from the Whangarei District Court he could find a methamphetamine house where it would be easy to buy methamphetamine.
"It's the drug of choice and gangs are making money out of it. It's just as easy as going into a dairy and buying a pound of butter."
He said what he had noticed in the Whangarei area was the number of women under 25, mostly with children, who had become beholden to the gangs.
The women were easy targets and succumbed to gang pressure to supply and distribute methamphetamine in an effort to fund their own addictions.
"The dealers and big boys don't get caught, it's the foot soldiers who end up in the dock. Those addicted to meth need help desperately and they need it now. It needs to be inpatient treatment and it needs to be of some considerable length.
"The way to stop it is to get tough on the manufacturers and the suppliers but I suspect that horse has already bolted."
He said the ramifications of the drug on children, whanau and communities was immeasurable.
"It's destroying human beings, it's destroying children's lives and it's a plague on the community. All politicians from all parties need to work together and sort this out."
Last year $3 million, from money secured through the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act, was given to the Northland scheme Te Ara Oranga to help meth users and their families find new referral and treatment options.
A new seven-strong team of police was formed and tasked solely to deal with meth-related crimes and offenders.
Inspector Dean Robinson said officers in Northland were dealing with meth-related problems on most shifts.
The drug was associated with crimes such as theft, fraud, poor driving, violence and episodes of family harm. It was affecting all levels, and increasingly children and young people.
"What we are seeing is methamphetamine suppliers and high demand users are trapped by the addictive nature of the drug, pressured by the gangs, and with poly-substance abuse," Mr Robinson said.
Testing last year revealed high levels of meth in Whangarei's wastewater system. It was estimated from the wastewater levels that in Whangarei 7665mg of methamphetamine was used each week per 1000 people compared with Auckland's use of 2824mg.
Dr Chris Wilkins, of Massey University, said the report suggested police should be reassessing the resource they put into cannabis enforcement, and said there may need to be more effort put in towards meth.
"People could ask some really interesting questions about how they want to spend their taxpayer dollars in terms of drug enforcement - is it on cannabis, or should it be focused on methamphetamine only?"