Arrest numbers and interceptions of large shipments have hinted at the scale of the methamphetamine problem for two decades.
Now the Herald has obtained two years of wastewater test results that police have used to monitor consumption of illegal drugs around the country since late 2018. The data provides a clearer than ever snapshot of the scale and geographic spread of New Zealand's meth problem.
The picture is of small-town, heartland Godzone zombified.
Analysis reveals small regional centres with high levels of deprivation — including Kaitaia, Ōpōtiki and Wairoa — have been saturated by meth, recording weekly per capita consumption at more than double the national average.
Between 2018 and 2020, the figures indicate, the highest levels of meth use per person were in six deprived towns: Kaitaia, Ōpōtiki, Wairoa, Kawerau, Tokoroa and Huntly. Their residents consumed more than twice the national average of 4.11 grams per 1000 people a week.
South Auckland was the only big metropolitan centre among the 10 worst-affected areas. The smaller cities of Whanganui, Rotorua and Whangārei also ranked in the top 10, according to the analysis.
We have an increasing underclass in the grip of an addiction that is costing the country dearly in social fallout and the impacts of crime.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Some will point to other crises, such as our increasing appetite for sugary drinks and fatty foods, which is ruining the health of the nation, or chronic alcohol abuse in the older demographic. These problems, major and as pressing as they are, are not the drivers to crime that methamphetamine is.
Users remain an ongoing burden. A Health Ministry report in 2014 estimated the total cost of personal harm to drug users in New Zealand at $601 million, with half of that amount due to years lived with a drug-related disability. It estimated personal harm for methamphetamine at $184,200 per dependent user.
The knock-on effects begin with specific harms to the family and friends of drug users. Then, there are a variety of harms that follow drug-related crime, including acquisitive crime by drug users to fund drug purchases, and the reinvestment of profits in a wider range of crimes to assist in the diversification of criminal enterprises.
Finally, there are harms caused by a reduced revenue base to the government. The sale of illicit drugs is not subject to GST, and organised crime does not pay company tax on its profits. The reduced tax base means fewer funds are available for services such as health, education and infrastructure spending. The money needed to tackle problems such as meth addiction. It is costing us now not to tackle the issue, let alone when the desperate prey on wider targets.
What is needed is multi-varied efforts to lift these areas out of deprivation. Hope is a shield against reliance on escapist substances. Social services need to break the chain of addiction; programmes with proven efficacy should be propagated and proliferate.
A senior police officer is right when he says "we cannot arrest our way out". Deterrence should be delivered with treatment. Households with an addict are likely to accommodate other users, or users-to-be.
Those who shake the grip of this also need ongoing support and encouragement.