The journalist behind a book that touches on the story of New Zealand’s meth testing “scam” says his research has led him to believe the people selling P are just as bad as the drug itself.
1NEWS political reporter Benedict Collins’ new book Mad on Meth: How New Zealand got hooked on P, which will be released in New Zealand bookstores on November 15, traverses the history of methamphetamine in Aotearoa.
In an interview with Newstalk ZB’s Real Life with John Cowan on Sunday night, Collins said a safe supply scheme that loosened the stranglehold gangs have on the supply of P could be a worthwhile endeavour for the Government to consider.
“Tens of thousands of people every year will use meth – most only once or twice. They might try it at a party. But you end up with about 15% of people who will end up getting hooked on it, and life’s pretty bleak for them right now,” he said.
“The gangs just have such control over it, and what I see when I talk to people is that the people running the drug are just as bad as the drug itself in this country. If you could try and separate that somehow… that might be worth trialling.
“People have talked about maybe doing a safe supply scheme… I think it’d be difficult geographically, but that’s where the Government could come in and give people amphetamines to try and get them out of the grips of the gangs.”
Collins recognises that meth is a “grim topic” for a book, but he told Cowan he was determined to make the book an engaging read too.
He says that hasn’t proven particularly hard because drugs have been such a big part of the public conversation in recent years, on matters like the cannabis referendum and pill-testing at festivals.
Of course, the meth testing debacle that saw about 2500 people questionably evicted from their rentals nationwide features heavily in Mad on Meth too. Collins says the hysteria of meth use in homes has proven to be “a complete overreaction”.
“They came in with good intentions, right? They had these experts at the Ministry of Health who were worried about people cooking meth in their houses,” he recounted to Cowan.
“They were worried that when people were cooking meth, they’d be using other chemicals to manufacture it, like lead. So they were worried not so much about meth, but they used the meth as a marker chemical.
“What happened is it basically evolved to a point where … Housing New Zealand would test and find a few millionths of a gram of meth in a house and people would end up getting evicted and blacklisted.
“I talked to one of the scientists, Nick Kim, who had been involved in coming up with these meth testing standards, and he was like, ‘This is insane – the levels are so low, you can’t even be sure that anyone’s ever smoked meth in these homes.’
As a result of the testing standards, 800 tenants and their families – about 2500 people in all – were kicked out of their homes by 2017. An inquiry later found the testing standards were not fit for purpose, and the tenants were paid out discretionary grants totalling nearly $4 million.
Unfortunately, by the time the testing standard had been exposed as illegitimate, dozens of meth testing companies had been set up to cash in on the boom it had created.
The publishing of the inquiry killed many of them off, Collins says, but some are still in existence.
“They’re still going out and warning people of the terrible dangers of minor traces of meth… but yeah, it’s a bit of a scam.”
Real Life is a weekly interview show where John Cowan speaks with prominent guests about their life, upbringing, and the way they see the world. Tune in Sundays from 7:30pm on Newstalk ZB or listen to the latest full interview here.