New insights into southern meth availability

Dr Chris Wilkins in front of a hemp store on central Auckland's K Road. PHOTO: Jenna Ward

Meth appears to be easier to get in Southland than it is in Auckland, Wellington, or Christchurch, according to new research from Massey University.

New research is shedding light for the first time on what methamphetamine use looks like in regions like Southland, busting some common misconceptions about its regional availability and cost to users.

In March Dr Chris Wilkins and his Massey University research team released online survey results showing that meth was more available in New Zealand than cannabis. However the 6100 respondents to the survey also gave researchers a first-time look into how that availability compared between urban and rural regions. 

39% of the survey respondents said it took them less than 20 minutes to buy meth in Southland and the West Coast, with 57% of respondents saying it was "very easy" to do so.

Compare that to Auckland, where only 25% of respondents said they could find meth in the same amount of time.

Next door in Otago, only 16% of respondents could find the highly addictive drug in less than 20 minutes.

Dr Wilkins said the survey was meant to provide a snapshot of frequent drug users that came out of a need for local data outside the big cities. It wasn't a representative sample.

"People often associate drug use with cities and urban environments. I think they tend to have this idyllic perception of smaller towns and rural regions as kind of not having those problems. But we certainly were getting a lot of anecdotal reports that there's some places where there's real issues."

In addition to Southland, the regions with higher availability of meth included Northland, Bay of Plenty, Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, Waikato, Manawatu-Wanganui and the West Coast. 

Dr Wilkins said despite the idyllic image of rural New Zealand, a lot of smaller towns and rural areas had suffered socio-economic decline and higher levels of unemployment, things that were associated with drug use. 

"At the end of the day we were really didn't know what drug use was going to look like in Southland, but we were surprised by the level that was there."

Additional modelling of the data showed that meth use was higher in small towns throughout New Zealand. It also seemed to be the case that drug availability was higher in small towns that had a gang selling drugs, he said. Small towns were easier for a drug-selling gang to dominate both in terms of the supply of drugs and their availability.

"If the gang can dominate a small town in terms of the drug market, they can choose what drug they want to sell and they can promote that because they've got no competitors.

Invercargill Detective Sergeant John Kean said gangs were invariably linked to the supply of meth, but they weren't the only ones responsible for its sale.

"It is being brought into Southland by various means and it is hard to determine what is the most prominent. These include by people travelling in vehicles, flights or on occasion through the mail system."

Dr Wilkins said other contributing factors to meth use in more rural areas seemed to be greater social isolation and more difficulty accessing drug treatment centres.

"These findings suggest a need to further prioritise the focus on meth, rather than on cannabis. This could include increasing access to help services for substance use problems for people living in the regions."


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