PM John Key announces $15m of initiatives for war on P and other drugs
A $15 million boost for anti-drug initiatives is not an admission that the Government is losing the war on P, Prime Minister John Key says.
However, Key acknowledges methamphetamine has become "the drug of choice" for some Kiwis, while police must do more to stop P coming into the country through remote areas like Northland.
The Government has announced the funding for 15 anti-drug initiatives, coming from money and assets seized from criminals, as part of its Tackling Methamphetamine Action Plan.
The funding includes $3m for a joint initiative by police and health officials to reduce demand for P in Northland, as well as a $2.1m programme to better identify P use among new prisoners and trial a treatment programme.
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The Government is also spending $2m to tackle the flow of P into New Zealand from the Americas and Asia, along with $732,000 to get more intelligence on overseas gangs importing the drug.
Key said official advice from surveys suggested the number of people using P was declining.
However, extra resources for police and Customs had led to more high-profile seizures, while those "at the hardened end" were using more of the drug.
"Certainly, meth has become I think a drug of choice of some of these more hardened users."
Key said New Zealand's status as one of the most expensive places to buy P was a "huge incentive" for those who wanted to import or manufacture the drug.
It was "quite right" to put more money into rehabilitation services, but the Government also had to tackle the supply of P in the first place.
"You need to obviously do more to stop the importation of either the drug or the precursors of the drug, and that's really where obviously from a supply perspective you can make the biggest gains."
Key said the specific funding for policing of P in Northland was an acknowledgement that the area was "obviously clearly a gateway because of the accessibility of that coastline".
In June, police announced they had seized nearly 500 kilograms of the drug, worth close to half a billion dollars, hidden in sand dunes at 90 Mile Beach.
"We can't go into lots of detail about why we know what we know, but we certainly are aware that that's a vulnerability in the system, at least one of them, so we're closing that down," Key said.
Asked about the Tribal Huks gang and its efforts to clear Ngaruawahia of P dealers, Key offered some cautious praise but warned against ignoring that other gangs played in distributing the drug.
"Obviously we welcome any support to do something like that – as long as it's legal of course – but I do think we should also recognise the role that, I'm not saying that gang, but gangs typically are playing in New Zealand, and that is that they're at the forefront of manufacture and/or distribution of a lot of drugs."
MORE POLICE NEEDED - LABOUR
Labour leader Andrew Little called the announcement "a hodgepodge of half-measures", saying more police were needed to tackle the P epidemic.
"Mr Key talks big but he has failed to back police to do the job. The number of police assigned to drug enforcement has been cut for three years running."
However, Police Commissioner Mike Bush welcomed the funding, saying police were working hard to reduce the effect of drugs by reducing demand in New Zealand and disrupting its importation.
Police had two China-based liaison officers who helped to identify and stop precursors and illegal drugs at their source in South China, Bush said.
"All of our police liaison officers overseas play a key role in ensuring police are both able to understand international trends, as well as respond to them in a timely and effective manner."
NZ DRUG FOUNDATION: BETTER BALANCE
NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the Government appeared to have a better balance between law enforcement and health-based interventions than in previous announcements.
"It's not just all about law enforcement, it's not all about getting tough on gangs, it's not all about stopping drugs at the border - you have to provide help to people who need it."
However, Bell said drug and alcohol treatment services had been underfunded for many years, and "a much more significant injection" of cash was needed to tackle the demand for drugs.
"As long as there are people who are demanding drugs, people will find a way of supplying those drugs," he said.