Emerging trends and concerns
- Transnational and domestic organized criminal groups will increasingly attempt to smuggle methamphetamine into New Zealand, particularly following the disruption of domestic manufacture.
- The diversion of precursor chemicals, both from the domestic chemical industry and illegal imports, in particular from China, is likely to continue. There are indications that a wider range of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products may be smuggled into the country using a variety of new sources and smuggling methods.
- There are indications that alternative methods of methamphetamine manufacture such as P-2-P will be increasingly used, and it is likely that alternative precursors will be increasingly sourced.
- The availability of a growing range of new psychoactive substances not under international control and used in ‘ecstasy’ to substitute MDMA will likely increase, in response to the declining availability of MDMA.
Overview of the drug situation
New Zealand continues to experience high levels of methamphetamine use, primarily of methamphetamine in powder form. Methamphetamine is manufactured domestically in clandestine laboratories, mostly from imported pharmaceutical preparations containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. In addition, there are indications that increasing amounts of methamphetamine (finished product) are being trafficked into New Zealand, which may be in response to increased law enforcement pressure on precursor imports and clandestine laboratories.
It may also be a result of international criminal groups targeting New Zealand given that the price for methamphetamine is comparably high in the country. The Government of New Zealand has identified the reduction of the availability and use of methamphetamine as the highest priority in relation to illicit drugs.
Cannabis remains the most commonly used illicit drug in New Zealand and its domestic cultivation remains widespread. In addition, an increasing range of synthetic cannabinoid products have become available. In August 2011, the New Zealand Government placed a temporary ban on the substances (NZG 2011).
Table 1. Trend in use of selected drugs in New Zealand, 2007-2011
In 2011, some 53 kg of methamphetamine were seized in New Zealand, a 72% increase over the previous year and the highest total reported since 2007 (NDIB 2012c). Increasing amounts of finished methamphetamine have been smuggled into New Zealand in each of the past two years. In 2011, there were 23 border seizures totaling 27 kg compared with 21 border seizures totaling 19.4 kg during the previous year. This increase is likely due to expanding activity by transnational drug trafficking groups targeting New Zealand (NDIB 2012b).
Whereas the amount of ecstasy seized in New Zealand nearly tripled in 2011, the amount of ecstasy seized at New Zealand’s borders in 2011 showed a large decrease compared with the previous year (ARQ New Zealand 2012). The overall increase in the number of ‘ecstasy’ pills seized in 2011 is likely due to the growth of domestic supply.
In 2011, a total of 109 clandestine methamphetamine manufacturing laboratories were dismantled, of which three facilities were also producing MDMA, GBL and explosives. Most of the seized facilities were located on private premises on the Upper North Island. Some were mobile laboratories and some were located in industrial facilities (ARQ New Zealand 2012).
Clandestine methamphetamine laboratory seizures in the previous few years totaled 130 in 2010, 135 in 2009 and 133 in 2008, far lower than the number of labs seized earlier in the decade. Most of the clandestine laboratories found in New Zealand in 2011 were manufacturing methamphetamine or were pseudoephedrine extraction operations. In November 2011, New Zealand Police dismantled a large clandestine manufacturing facility which was likely to have been supplying significant quantities of illicit drugs in New Zealand and was possibly established to meet the in¬creasing demand for ecstasy pills.
Table 2. Seizures of selected illicit drugs in New Zealand, 2007-2011
Nearly all illicitly manufactured methamphetamine in New Zealand is made using ephedrine and pseudo¬ephedrine as precursors. Border seizures of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have been on the decline since they peaked in 2009. In 2011, the quantity of precursor chemicals seized by Customs was about 36% lower than the quantity seized during the previous year. In 2011, about 2.8 million pill equivalents of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were seized in 686 incidents. This compares with almost 4.4 million pill equivalents seized in 978 incidents in 2010 (PAG 2012).
ARQ 2012 New Zealand. ‘Annual Report Questionnaire for 2011’, New Zealand, 2012, and previous years.
NZG 2011. ‘All synthetic cannabis products to be banned’, New Zealand Government, The official web¬site of the New Zealand Government, 1 August 2011. (Accessed at: http://beehive.govt.nz/release/all-syn¬thetic-cannabis-products-be-banned; date accessed; 11 October 2011).
NDIB 2012b. ‘New Zealand Country Report’, National Drug Intelligence Bureau (NDIB), presented at the Twenty-second Anti-Drug Liaison Officials’ Meeting for International Cooperation (ADLOMICO), Busan, Republic of Korea, 12-14 September 2012.
NDIB 2012c. Official communication with the National Drug Intelligence Bureau (NDIB), Wellington, October 2012.
NDIB 2011a. New Zealand Country Report, National Drug Intelligence Bureau (NDIB), presented at the Sixteenth Asia-Pacific Operational Drug Enforcement Conference (ADEC), Tokyo, 22-24 February 2011.
NDIB 2010. ‘2010 Illicit Drug Assessment’, National Drug Intelligence Bureau (NDIB), Wellington, 2010.
NDIB 2009. ‘New Zealand Country Report – 2008’, National Drug Intelligence Bureau (NDIB), presented at the Fourteenth Asia-Pacific Operational Drug Enforcement Conference (ADEC), Tokyo, 17-20 February 2009.
PAG 2012. ‘Tackling Methamphetamine: Indicators and Progress Report’, Policy Advisory Group, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Wellington, May 2012.