New ‘Ice Age’ is drug scourge of New Zealand

April 4th, 2008 - 9:32 am ICT by admin  

By David Barber
Wellington, April 4 (DPA) There is a new “Ice Age” in New Zealand and it is the modern day scourge of the South Pacific island nation of 4.2 million people. “Ice”, methamphetamine or “P”, as it is uniquely known in New Zealand - has replaced marijuana as the most common illegal drug on the streets and police and authorities say it is far more dangerous.

“P” is a member of the amphetamine group of synthetic or designer drugs that have a powerful stimulant effect on the central nervous system, producing wakefulness, hyperactivity, lots of energy and euphoria.

The police have declared it their number one drug concern and it has been blamed for a string of violent crimes, including homicides, because its effects on users vary, making their behaviour highly unpredictable.

Tolerance rapidly sets in, meaning that bigger doses need to be taken to achieve the same euphoric effect. Increased use then often leads to compounding paranoia, psychosis and extreme mood swings.

“P” is expensive and addicts turn to crime to fund their addiction and become violent and unpredictable when their intense craving for the drug leads to repeated use for days on end, without sleep or food.

As it is so expensive, the illegal manufacture, distribution and marketing of methamphetamine is big business in New Zealand and police say that motor cycle and ethnic Maori gangs who were once sworn enemies now co-operate in it to share the profits.

As well as pseudoephedrine - a cold and influenza medication, which is a key component, household products containing caustics, acids and solvents are used to make “P”.

Police say one kilogramme of pseudoephedrine and some cheap products from a hardware store can yield 200,000 New Zealand dollars (about $160,000) in a few days.

Ten years ago, just two clandestine laboratories manufacturing methamphetamine were found in New Zealand. Today, police are discovering more than 200 a year - often when they explode because of the extremely flammable chemicals used.

The housing ministry has had to destroy some state houses made uninhabitable because methamphetamine-making tenants left them riddled with toxic residues and private landlords have been given lists of signs to look out for in their rental properties.

Police say the danger to the surrounding environment is huge because every kilogramme of manufactured “P” leaves about seven kilogrammes of toxic by-product that is either flushed down toilets or dumped, often in residential neighbourhoods.

China is a major illegal supplier of pseudoephedrine for makers of “P”, particularly with a brand of cold and flu capsule called Contac NT, which contain tiny, easily smuggled, granules.

Customs officers, who seized more than 150 kg of methamphetamine and Contac NT worth an estimated 50 million New Zealand dollars on the street in a major bust last year, say it has been smuggled in wooden pallets, bicycle frames, sofas and slabs of granite.

Mike Sabin, a former drug squad detective who has set up a company called Methcon to educate businesses, schools and organisations on the dangers of methamphetamine and what to look for in their workers and members, says New Zealand now has one of the highest addiction rates to the drug in the world.

“The overwhelmingly addictive nature of methamphetamine, combined with its almost irreversibly destructive impact on the user, has seen it cut a swathe through all socio-economic boundaries,” he says.

“It is no longer a drug just used by criminals and gang members - it is in large cities, small towns, rural communities, schools and businesses. It is used by people in all walks of life such as high earning professionals, sportsmen and women, celebrities and children and ordinary New Zealanders.”

Sabin estimates that a cannabis habit of 100 New Zealand dollars a week costs an equivalent methamphetamine user $1,500 or more weekly. He says US research showed its use resulted in a massive loss of productivity and huge increases in theft, fraud and medical costs, along with indirect costs to society, which are far-reaching and significant.

“As a result, methamphetamine is now acknowledged as one of the most serious threats to the workforce, and indeed, society as a whole.”

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