Emerging trends and concerns
- New Zealand continues to experience high levels of illicit methamphetamine manufacture, trafficking and use.
- The involvement of transnational criminal groups in the methamphetamine market is expanding, and seizures of both methamphetamine and its precursors increased in 2013, reversing the trend recorded since 2009.
- It is likely that transnational and domestic organized criminal groups will continue to divert significant quantities of precursor chemicals from licit trade to New Zealand, using new sources and smuggling methods.
- The market for pills sold as ‘ecstasy’ remains strong. This is indicated by data related to seizures and clandestine laboratory detections as well as by the growing range of new psychoactive substances used in ‘ecstasy’ as substitutes for MDMA.
Overview of the drug situation
The methamphetamine market in New Zealand appears to be predominantly supplied by domestic manufacture; however, domestic and transnational organized criminal groups continue to illicitly import large amounts of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and their precursor chemicals into the country.
New Zealand continues to experience high levels of methamphetamine use, primarily in its powder form although recent studies suggest a declining trend. According to the data from the latest triennial drug use prevalence survey, conducted by the Ministry of Health, the percentage of the New Zealand working age population who used an amphetamines-group substance in 2011 was 0.9% (or about 25,000 New Zealanders), compared with 2.1% in 2007-2008.
Cannabis remains the dominant illicit drug in New Zealand in terms of arrests, seizures and use, and its domestic cultivation remains widespread. The use of prescription opiates/pharmaceutical opioids, either in tablet form or ‘homebake heroin’, a street substance created from pharmaceutical opiates such as morphine or codeine, remains a problem.
Table 1. Trend in use of selected drugs in New Zealand, 2009-2013
During the past few years, a number of new psychoactive substances have emerged in New Zealand, although their use appears to be limited. In 2012 and 2013, there were at least 40 new substances detected in New Zealand. A large proportion of the pills sold as ‘ecstasy’ contained psychoactive substances other than MDMA. In 2013, Customs seized a number of substances imported as powders including bk-MDMA, 4-MEC, 4-FMC, 6-APB, MDPV, butylone, methoxetamine and ethylphenidate. It is believed that these powders are being imported and pressed into tablets in New Zealand.
In July 2013, the Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect making the importation, manufacture and supply of psychoactive substances illegal unless they have been assessed for risk and approved by a regulator. The legislation replaces the temporary class drug notices (TCDN) regime. In 2014, the Psychoactive Substances Amendment Act came into effect, which essentially bans the sale of all NPS.
The latest data indicate approximately 52.7 kg of methamphetamine was seized in New Zealand from January through September 2014, the highest amount in the past decade. In 2013, the amount of methamphetamine seized in New Zealand increased by two and a half times to approximately 36.2 kg compared with 12.5 kg in 2012. In 2013, there were 60 border seizures totaling 20.8 kg of methamphetamine compared with 15 border seizures totaling 14.9 kg in the previous year.
Seizures of finished pills sold as ‘ecstasy’ continued to be significant in 2013 and increased by 45% from the previous year to 318,401. This trend likely reflects increasing importation via the Internet by individuals and small networks, bypassing the New Zealand manufacturing market. Approximately half of the ‘ecstasy’ pills seized in 2013 originated from the Netherlands, known for producing ecstasy pills containing MDMA. In the last few years, there has also been a growth of the domestic supply of pills sold as ‘ecstasy’ but which contain stimulants other than MDMA.
The number of clandestine methamphetamine manufacturing facilities detected in New Zealand continues to decline. In 2013, a total of 84 methamphetamine laboratories were dismantled, most of which continue to be small-scale ‘kitchen-type’ facilities. However, there has also been an increase in the larger ‘commercial’ scale clandestine laboratories, with production focused on ‘production for supply’ rather than ‘addiction-based’ production, albeit not to the ‘super lab’ proportions seen overseas. A total of 94 clandestine methamphetamine laboratories were dismantled in 2012, 109 in 2011, 130 in 2010 and 135 in 2009. The decline in the number of laboratories being dismantled is likely to be due to drug manufacturers changing their modus operandi to avoid detection by law enforcement, such as by manufacturing in short timeframes (hours) and regularly moving equipment, precursors and solvents.
Table 2. Seizures of selected drugs in New Zealand, 2009-2013
Nearly all illicitly manufactured methamphetamine in New Zealand continues to be made using ephedrine and pseudoephedrine as precursors, most of which is diverted from legitimate international trade, primarily in the form of ContacNT® from China. Seizures increased from 2012 (498.4 kg) to 2013 (846.1 kg). During 2014 (January through August) a total of 474 kg has been seized so far.