Posted on Oct 05, 2017
Cynthia has 24 years experience in the Police so has a lot of knowledge of the changing drug culture around Southern New Zealand and explains about methamphetamine and how it has become rife across our district.
What do we know about methamphetamine in New Zealand?
  • It is most commonly known in New Zealand as "P" short for "Pure".
  • It is a powerful synthetic stimulant which indicates to the brain to release high levels of dopamine.
  • Methamphetamine is now cheaper than cannabis and easier to get. Sometimes cannabis is laced with methamphetamine to get users hooked and progressing onto harder drugs (similar to synthetic cannabis which can be just herbs soaked in chemicals).
  • Penalties for possession of the drug and utensils range from 6 months to 1 year in prison.
  • Government statistics show that in New Zealand 45kg or $45,000,000 worth is consumed per week.
Who typically uses methamphetamine?
There is no typical user of methamphetamine, use is seen across all ages, social, economic and cultural groups.
It was considered a party drug but users rarely stop with taking it socially and recreationally, methamphetamine is more addictive than heroin and users rapidly form tolerance to it.
Social changes can contribute to prevalence of use in certain groups, for example truck drivers needing to be alert for more hours or in the dairy industry when the market collapses and workers are laid off and remaining managers needs to keep up with the workload on their own. Community displacements and gaps in communities can allow drug activity to go on unnoticed as many people nowadays often know little about their neighbours.
What does methamphetamine look like?
  • Crystal (resembling ice) is the purest form.
  • It is most commonly distributed in powder form, then dealers can cut it with other chemicals or ingredients as simple as baking powders in order to sell more.
  • It has no odour or specific texture, although dogs could detect it with specialised training.
  • It is a very mobile drug as the little plastic "point bags" they are distributed in can be as small as a 10c piece.
  • It can be heated in a glass crack/meth pipe to inhale the vapour, or the glass part of a light bulb can be used, so people do not need to spend a lot of money on equipment to use the drug.
What happens after someone takes one hit of methamphetamine?
  • Rush occurs between 5-30 minutes.
  • High lasts 4-24 hours when users are most difficult to manage as they believe they are invincible.
  • Crash lasts 1-3 days during which the user is most vulnerable, they can be suicidal and a risk to themselves or others.
  • Withdrawal persists for 30-90 days.
  • The stages of the methamphetamine experience are very exaggerated, it causes an extreme high then extreme low.
  • Users can become delusional and paranoid and lead to psychosis if there is already mental illness.
Why has there been an increase in a drug that has such negative effects on all users and those around them?
It is essentially all about money - big syndicates and people both offshore and within New Zealand are making a huge profit by selling methamphetamine. 1 gram of meth can be sold for between $350-$1200. In comparison, 1g of cocaine can be sold for $250-$600 and 1g of gold is around $56 at the moment! Growing and selling cannabis is too high risk nowadays whereas meth is worth the risk to make huge profit. 1kg can be purchased for $4500 from China for example and 1kg can be $215,000 wholesale in New Zealand.
How is methamphetamine getting around New Zealand?
  • It mostly arrives from overseas to Auckland and Christchurch airports.
  • South Otago is a corridor to distribution between Central Otago and Southland.
  • Police can disrupt distribution but it quickly opens up in other channels.
  • Distributors on motorbikes can travel at high speed on any roads that Police cannot reach.
  • Hotels are used to distribute the drug as people can remain anonymous and move on.
How is the presence of methamphetamine affecting our communities in the south?
  • Enough of the drug for one hit can cost from $50, in Southland 1 gram costs around $1000.
  • It is readily available, highly addictive and destroys lives. Users can lose everything - possessions, their livelihood and relationships.
  • In Clutha for example, recently three people in one week have completely lost their way due to methamphetamine use. Good kids have committed offences to get money to pay for their next hit.
  • The drug is largely distributed by gangs. In the south there are not just two rival gangs, there are more that now agree on business deals. The cooks are the highest paid on the production line and they can be at risk of kidnapping between gangs, as can chemists and other people with knowledge on the production process.
What are some dangers of methamphetamine and its production?
Societal and Community Harm
  • Health of children and babies in utero is at risk.
  • Harm to relationships.
Personal Harm
  • Both physical and psychological.
  • Bugging - meth is a high toxicity substance and in overdose the poison leaches out feeling like bugs under the skin so users can be scratching it out without even feeling the damage done to their skin and soft tissue layers.
  • In one case a user under arrest was biting their own arms and breaking their teeth trying to escape handcuffs.
  • Drug testing for health and safety in the workplace is becoming necessary as manic or low episodes can affect employees at work.
Environmental Harm
  • Production of meth produces a lot of very toxic waste which pollutes waterways and residential areas.
  • Meth can be made in 2-3 days then by-products and toxins are left in houses and hotels.
  • Meth can be produced from chemicals that can be found in common household and industrial substances.
  • Many different acids and chemicals are involved making a meth lab a very volatile and flammable environment.
How can a meth lab be identified?
  • Chemical smells such as of ammonia, acetone, ether.
  • Large supply and use of running water.
  • There is very often surveillance equipment in place.
  • Unusual traffic patterns, more traffic at night and lots of short stay visitors.
  • Presence of containers with two layers of liquids or a clear liquid with a chalky solid at the bottom.
What to do if you come across a meth lab:
  • Never smell, touch, taste any chemical or equipment.
  • Do not alter water supply.
  • Do not attempt to stop any chemical reaction or turn any electrical device on or off.
  • Do not use any cell phone, radio or tool nearby.
  • Get away and contact Police.
  • Police must contact ESR (the Institute of Environmental Science and Research) so a specialist team can be assigned for clean up of the area.
Crimestoppers can be contacted at or 0800 555 111 to leave information anonymously.
What can be done about the methamphetamine problem?
Users can work their way off methamphetamine with access to the right avenues. Police can make referrals to get users the help they require. They are coping with what is on the books and undergoing the process, but many cases are not on the books so overall are not coping with the problem.
It is a difficult process due to lack of resourcing and reinforcement. Communities used to have allocated organised crime squads but now there are just a handful of individuals per district.
There needs to be more resourcing towards border control and towards search and surveillance. There also needs to be more resourcing and importance placed on awareness and prevention by forming good relationships with kids to encourage them to make better, strong choices.