In their first war against methamphetamine, back in 2009, the National Government cracked down on the nation's most popular common cold decongestant. Those with a blocked nose were told to dig out the old hankies and blow for the greater good.

It was "prong one" of Prime Minister John Key's multi-faceted campaign, targeting the precursor chemicals from which P was derived, which were found in popular cold and flu medication.

Eight years on, and this ban on runny nose medication a spectacular failure, Key's successor is trying another line of attack. Instead of targeting everyone with a red nose, Bill English is "giving police new power to search the cars and houses of the most serious criminal gang members at any time to ensure they don't have firearms".

Police Minister Paula Bennett tried to justify the move by adding that gang members "have fewer human rights than others". This got civil libertarians up in arms. They pointed to the New Zealand Bill of Rights guarantee that all be treated equally under the law and that included the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.


Bennett then apologised for actually saying out loud what was intended. Significantly there's been no backdown on the plans to randomly search the cars and houses of gang members.

What, one wonders, will they do when this crackdown proves as fruitless as the last. Ban all trade with China from where the P originates from? Or more hopefully, finally admit that this is a health crisis rather than a law and order issue, and concentrate state funding towards treatment.

The failure of Key's war on P is highlighted when you line up his battle plans alongside the latest. It's as though English has uplifted the 2009 version, dropped the bit about decongestants, stiffened the punishments a bit, and relaunched it.

Like English now, Key thundered on about how "We will use new powers to break drug supply chains by attacking the gangs and criminal organisations that make, supply and distribute P." They would seize funds and assets gained through P-related activity. Police would get new powers "to disrupt criminal gangs" by intercepting gang communications, making it an offence to be a member of a criminal organisation. There'd be more draconian search and surveillance laws.

Almost as an afterthought, he also offered better treatment for addicts and support for families and communities to stop people becoming P users.

By all accounts, this approach to the P epidemic has failed. Last week, for example, at the launch in Whangarei of a "meth reduction project", local district court judge Greg Davis said that about 90 per cent of the cases he hears involve drug addiction. This included family violence and burglary cases. He said meth was a major driver of crime.

"Relationships are destroyed, children are alienated. Properties, cars, houses, businesses are lost," he said.

The most recent "Tackling Methamphetamine Progress Report" from the PM's taskforce dated October 2015 suggests supply has exploded despite the war on drugs. It shows the price on the street has remained stable since 2011, with a "steep fall" then recovery between October 2012 and April 2013.

Police detainees reported the drug has become increasingly easy to obtain between 2010 and 2015. This is underlined by Customs Department seizure figures. The 413kg meth seized in 2016 was one and a half times more than 2015 (283kg), five times more than 2014 (82kg), and 20 times more than 2013 (21kg). And that doesn't include precursors. In 2016, they added up to 1.1 tonnes!

Experts argue that instead of spending more than half the $82 million budget on enforcement, the emphasis should be on treatment and community education.

Sue Paton, executive director of the Drug and Alcohol Practitioners' Association, says experts have been telling the government for years that the best way to reduce the supply of any drug is to reduce demand, and the only way to do that is to support people to come off their addiction.

After decades and millions of wasted dollars, fighting this losing war, what harm can there be in giving peace a chance?