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From today the Herald begins a six-part series on the damage methamphetamine is doing to New Zealand. We examine how the drug gets in, its devastating effect on society and what we can do to fix the problem.
A huge surge in methamphetamine is overwhelming law enforcement authorities, which are struggling to cope with increasing supplies of the drug and its devastating effect on crime.
A Weekend Herald investigation has found methamphetamine, commonly known as 'P', is firmly established as New Zealand's worst drug problem, with sales of up to $1.5 billion a year.
Customs' seizures of pseudoephedrine - the chemical used to make P - soared to more than three million pills last year, enough to make up to 200kg of meth.
But officers believe they may be finding only 20 per cent of the total, meaning the true level of P manufacture and use is probably much higher.
Police privately say they are finding fewer than 10 per cent of meth labs - and overworked police officers and courts are unable to handle more cases anyway.
And Auckland's top prosecutor, Crown Solicitor Simon Moore, SC, says P has had "a massive and extraordinary effect on crime".
At least 80 per cent of recent High Court trials were connected to the drug, he said.
"There's no doubt at all that methamphetamine has had a profound effect on elevating violent crime and in some instances very serious violent crime. It's just something that we never saw in the 80s and 90s."
He said police were flat out chasing meth dealers but still found most P labs by accident because they didn't have the resources to go looking for them.
Many of New Zealand's most notorious murderers in the past decade - including triple RSA killer William Bell and samurai swordsman Antonie Dixon - were high on P when they carried out their killings.
Research also shows criminals who use P heavily carry out about seven times as much property crime and drug dealing as non-addicted lawbreakers, and 31 per cent of younger users admit they have had a car crash while on the drug.
Justice Minister Simon Power has acknowledged the scale of the problem and promised to deliver answers soon.
"It's sufficiently serious that legislative solutions and Government action are necessary to combat what is becoming an extremely problematic issue for law and order."
Mr Power - who will attend tonight's launch of the Stellar Trust, a new anti-P charity - hinted that the Government would soon tighten money laundering rules and streamline court processes to speed up trials.
But he said there was still no resolution on a long-delayed plan to monitor pseudoephedrine-based cold and flu tablets at pharmacies - an easy source of ingredients for the gangs that control 75 per cent of the trade.
The Chief High Court Judge, Justice Tony Randerson, publicly raised the alarm last year when methamphetamine cases threatened to overwhelm other trials.
He told the Weekend Herald law enforcement agencies and courts could not solve the problem on their own.
"It is a major social issue that needs to be tackled by the whole community. In many ways, we are just the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. It's a community problem and the community needs to address it."
The Government will also hear from methamphetamine campaigner Mike Sabin, who plans to outline his strategy to Prime Minister John Key, Police Minister Judith Collins and Mr Power.
Mr Sabin said New Zealand needed to completely rethink its policies, starting by appointing a US-style "drugs czar" and beginning a drive to stop people using drugs.
He also wants courts to force drug-addicted criminals into treatment instead of prison, and favours drug screening at schools and workplaces.
THE WAR ON P:
Monday: The pills behind P
Tuesday: More powers for police
Wednesday: Courts try new approach
Thursday: Inside an addict's brain
Friday: Getting the message