From P in Kawerau to cocaine at the beach. The latest findings from the New Zealand Police wastewater drug testing programme has revealed the extent of drug use in the Bay of Plenty and the results are shocking. Kiri Gillespie reports.
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The Bay of Plenty has some of the highest rates of methamphetamine and cocaine use in New Zealand, according to a study of the region's wastewater.
The latest findings from the New Zealand Police wastewater drug testing programme were released this month. They revealed the average daily drug use per 1000 people in each policing district between May and July.
The scheme tests for meth, Ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine, fentanyl and heroin in what is, essentially, a national urine test.
In the Bay of Plenty, about 900mg of methamphetamine was used each day per 1000 people.
The region's meth consumption was the third highest in the country behind only the eastern region - Hawke's Bay - (950mg) and Northland (1000mg).
Nationally, about 15 kilograms of methamphetamine was consumed on average each week.
The Bay of Plenty's results also showed about 25mg of cocaine was used each day. The prevalence was the second-highest in New Zealand behind the Tamaki Makaurau district in Auckland, which had about 65mg a day.
It was a jump up the regional rankings for the Bay, which had the fifth-highest cocaine use in the previous quarter.
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About 200mg of MDMA was being consumed in the Bay of Plenty each day, seventh-highest of the 10 police districts. Local use of heroin and fentanyl did not rank at all.
Tauranga Hospital emergency department clinical director Dr Derek Sage said drugs such as methamphetamine, MDMA and cocaine were "an added layer of difficulty" while looking after patients.
Drugs were not only an issue medically but behaviourally as well, Dr Sage said.
"These patients tend to be resource-greedy in terms of time and personnel so, whilst it doesn't compromise the care other patients receive in the emergency department, it does add extra pressure on the hospital staff themselves," he said.
"We are perhaps fortunate in that we are not seeing huge numbers of patients like this coming through our doors at the moment."
Wastewater samples were collected from sites labelled Tauranga beach, Tauranga city, Whakatāne, Rotorua, Tokoroa, Ōpōtiki, Taūpo and Kawerau.
Methamphetamine was by far the most prevalent drug from each site and made up 99 per cent of positive testing samples from Kawerau.
In the Tauranga beach sample, however, MDMA or Ecstasy made up 29 per cent and cocaine 6 per cent.
Stuart Caldwell, manager of free Tauranga drug and alcohol counselling service Get Smart, said despite methamphetamine's high prevalence in the findings, the drug was not the most common his team saw.
"Predominantly, what we are seeing is alcohol and cannabis, in that order."
Get Smart deals with people aged from 13 to 25.
Caldwell said many clients had tried methamphetamine but it was not their main problem. He suspected the reason for this could be the cost of methamphetamine compared to alcohol or cannabis.
READ MORE: Drug smugglers target Port of Tauranga
Researcher Chris Wilkins said earlier this month that in the early 2000s, the price of a gram of methamphetamine in New Zealand was $1000. Now, it was less than half that in some places, not accounting for inflation.
He expected lower prices in North Island regions were consistent with their proximity to international smuggling routes such as ports, coastlines and airports plus domestic manufacturing of the drug.
Questions to the Lakes District Health Board about the impact of drug use, and to the New Zealand Police seeking the raw data behind the findings, were each referred to the Official Information Act process last week, which has a 20 working-day timeframe for answers.
A police spokeswoman said the figures were not simple to collate. Police refused to comment on the results until the OIA process was complete.
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine (meth) is one of a number of amphetamine-type drugs. Some have medical uses and are made by pharmaceutical companies. However, most meth used in New Zealand is made in illegal 'labs'. Meth is a stimulant drug available in pill, powder, crystal or liquid forms. It can be swallowed, snorted or injected but is most commonly smoked in a glass pipe or bong.
If you need any help
- Anyone affected by meth addiction was urged to seek help through the Alcohol and Drug Helpline on 0800 787797, or free text 1737 to speak with a trained counsellor.
- Anyone with information about the sale and supply of illegal substances in the community should contact their local police station, or phone Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.