Lengthy waiting lists for rehabilitation care are placing Bay of Plenty addicts on "offending treadmills", local lawyers say.
Tauranga does not have a residential treatment centre so people seeking help for addiction have to leave the region for care.
Lawyers say addicts who commit crimes are reoffending while sitting on waiting lists for treatment, with one saying it was "one of the biggest problems our justice system faces".
However, the chief district court judge says judges do their best to find available alternatives when residential treatment facilities are unavailable.
Defence lawyer Rebekah Webby, who works across the Tauranga, Rotorua and Waihī District Courts, said it was "virtually impossible" to get clients into rehabilitation care.
The problem had also become significantly worse due to a backlog of cases caused by the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Webby said she was trying to get seven clients into rehabilitation at present. More than 90 per cent of all her clients suffered from addiction problems, she said.
If her clients could get treatment, they were eligible for more substantial sentence discounts but many were facing harsher sentences because they were unable to be placed. Some ended up reoffending while waiting for treatment.
"We have a massive methamphetamine issue in the Bay of Plenty but don't have the facilities to deal with it," Webby said.
Rotorua defence lawyer Tim Braithwaite said clients were "crying out" for help in dealing with addiction.
"In my view, this lack of available treatment is one of the biggest problems our justice system faces."
He said residential rehabilitation was highly sought after and also the best way to deal with addictions to get people off "offending treadmills".
"Finding placements for these clients is extremely difficult with most facilities constantly full and with waiting lists."
Te Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust director Tommy Kapai said trust supporters had been "crying out" for a residential rehabilitation facility in the city for years.
The service saw about 8000 people a year struggling with addiction and at least five a week who required rehabilitation-level support.
"We are never going to get the drugs off our streets but we can do our best to fix the people affected by them."
Local GP Tony Farrell, who has a fellowship in addiction medicine, said he was in favour of a rehabilitation service in Tauranga because the current system was not working.
He said the system had three levels of support, with people either working with their GPs, admitting themselves to an outpatient clinic and more severe cases needing rehabilitation services.
However, he said he had seen patients with severe needs who were on waiting lists for months and even years to get a place in a facility.
Many needed to travel out of region for help, which was not practical financially, he said.
Chief Judge Heemi Taumaunu said where the availability of beds in residential treatment facilities was an issue at bail or sentencing, district court judges did their best to find alternatives, and "make decisions on the basis of information presented to them".
Justice Minister Andrew Little said there was significant unmet demand for addiction treatment, "in particular for those in the criminal justice system", but the Government had delivered an expansion of therapeutic courts including an expansion of alcohol and other drug treatment (AODT).
He said within two years, court participants were 23 per cent less likely to reoffend for any offence and 25 per cent less likely to be imprisoned for their reoffending.
A Department of Corrections spokesman said people on community-based sentences or orders could be referred to community alcohol or drug aid providers, or community residential treatment programmes.
In the Bay of Plenty, Corrections funded residential placements in Rotorua with Manaaki Ora Trust, he said.
People in prison were three times more likely than the general population to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder in the past 12 months and 91 per cent will have experienced either a substance use disorder or a mental health disorder over their lifetime.
"A total of $128.3 million over four years has been invested through Budget 2019 for mental health and alcohol and drug services for prisoners and people on community-based sentences," the spokesman said.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board portfolio manager of mental health and addictions services Caleb Putt said the Government helped fund a range of residential addiction providers around the country.
However, the majority of individuals accessing support for addiction difficulties found the support they needed in community-based support services.
"The [health board] is currently exploring local partnerships with iwi and kaupapa providers regarding local residential addiction options for the future."
He said the Bay of Plenty was feeling pressure across all addiction services and treatment was only one aspect of the solution to tackling the impact of methamphetamine on the community.
A Tauranga addiction services provider, who asked not to be named due to sensitivity around the issue, said they were "as busy as they had ever been".
In many cases, people were being sent their way instead of being charged because it gave them a chance to clean up their act without a conviction, he said.
"I've seen loads of people turn their lives around, I wouldn't do it otherwise."
A spokeswoman from Odyssey, a national addiction rehabilitation service in Auckland and Whangārei, said between three and five Bay of Plenty people were referred to their care each month.
Local MPs have their say:
Tamati Coffey - MP for Waiariki (Labour): "I support any Māori or Waiariki-led solution, tackling the damage this silent wrecking ball is doing to our whānau.
"We made record investment into taking mental health and addictions seriously, from boosting services in Rotorua and inside Corrections, to delivering new facilities in Tauranga – with more to do."
Simon Bridges - Tauranga MP (National): "The rise of drugs and crime continues to worsen in the Bay of Plenty and we need to hit it from both a criminal justice and rehabilitative angle.
"Locally, this means searching more containers and vessels coming into our foreshore and a beefed-up police serious crime unit.
"It also means getting at the underlying causes through intensive cross-agency case management programmes and more beds for homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and mental health."
Jan Tinetti - Labour list MP: "I am aware that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is causing widespread harm in New Zealand communities, and that addiction service providers across the country cannot keep up with demand."
"That is why in our first Wellbeing Budget we also gave district health boards an extra $2.3b over four years, of which $213.1m will go into mental health and addiction services.
"I will make contact with the Bay of Plenty District Health Board in the first instance to learn more about the level of unmet need locally, and how we might go about addressing it."
Angie Warren-Clarke - Labour list MP: "As an MP I have continued to work with the Tauranga DHB, iwi, alcohol and other drug services, across Government and the community advocating for a residential facility in our city.
"I believe it's important to advocate for a suite of alcohol and other drug solutions - residential facilities need to be part of this picture. "