The two-year study, led by the University of Auckland researchers in collaboration with local iwi providers and community leaders, plans to recruit 320 participants from a few regions in the country, including Northland, and for at least 50 per cent of the study participants to be Māori.
Northland Addiction Service leaders last week attended the launch presided over by the university’s lead investigator and Associate Professor David Newcombe and Pamela Armstrong, who is one of the several kaitiaki overseeing Māori representation in the study.
Newcombe said the objective of the study was to work with Māori to change their current over-representation in statistics for meth-related harm.
“There is no magic drug, no methadone or ‘stop smoking’ product, so we have had to come up with a novel design for our study.”
Observations and inferences will be drawn from two “control groups” of meth users – the first consisting of users who do seek help for drug use and the other those who do not.
Over the two years, researchers, along with iwi leaders, will conduct several surveys and gather information on what encouraged the participants to take up or leave treatment, and give up on or go back to using the illicit drug.
“We want to know their story on what works and doesn’t, and if not, then why?” Newcombe said.
Armstrong, who has worked with several NGOs in Northland, felt what made the study stand out from previous studies was its strong inclusion of a “Māori voice”.
“Such an approach is a good thing, because we have seen so much research done that doesn’t necessarily include that Māori perspective or equity.”
She said the use of meth was a “big concern” for Northland communities. In her experience, the illicit drug was believed to be second only to cannabis in usage – with the highest levels of use concentrated in Northland, Auckland and the Bay of Islands.
Ministry of Justice figures for Aotearoa suggest an exponential rise in meth usage after 3404 offenders were convicted in 2020, three times more convictions than were made in 2011.
Armstrong believes, that Northland conviction stats almost mirrored the national trend.
“It’s hard to find a community that hasn’t been touched by meth, and that includes many of our Māori communities.”
She explained that in the past, the “Western paradigm” dominating New Zealand treatment sectors was largely to blame for why the wellbeing of Māori was overlooked or proved ineffective.
“However, we have come a long way since then, and it’s good news that systems are changing. But we still have a long way to go.”
Armstrong said other factors such as inter-generational trauma from colonisation, poverty, housing, education and homelessness were other barriers which pushed people to take up and use illicit substances such as meth.
Her colleague Newcombe said the study was first conceptualised about five years ago when he came across a similar study that had been conducted in Australia and shared the idea with Armstrong, who has been a guest professor at the university for more than a decade.
The study has received funding of $1.2 million from the Health Research Council.
Avneesh Vincent is the crime and emergency services reporter at the Advocate. He was previously at the Gisborne Herald as the arts and environment reporter and is passionate about covering stories that can make a difference. He joined NZME in July 2023.