31 Aug 2017

Northland's battle against P

1:36 pm on 31 August 2017

New treatment options and dedicated police officers are being used in a bid to stem the harm of methamphetamine in Northland.

Hikoi arrives at Waitangi

Protest marchers at Waitangi in February this year calling for more action against the scourge of P in Northland. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

In a pilot programme starting today, police and Northland District Health Board are working together to try to reduce demand for the drug, refer users and whānau to health services as a first priority, and give whānau educational kits to help them identify addicts in their community.

Seven police officers will be dedicated to stemming the flow of P.

The scheme's $3 million in funding comes from money seized under proceeds of crime laws.

Northland DHB chief executive Nick Chamberlin said P was a bigger problem in Northland than elsewhere, and there was broad community support for the scheme.

Methamphetamine is second only to alcohol as the reason for admission to the DHB's detox unit, and is the second or third most common reason for referral to DHB drug and alcohol services in Tai Tokerau.

"We're only often seeing the tip of the iceberg," Mr Chamberlin told Nine to Noon.

The drug had been around for a long time but there had been a significant increase in the past decade or so.

"The strategy is to not only intervene from a police perspective around catching the criminals who are making ... methamphetamine but to ensure there's a really, really supported referral process for those who are using.

Intervening at an earlier stage meant medical professionals needed to know the questions to ask, he said.

The scheme, Te Ara Oranga, will include extra detox rooms, screening and testing at the emergency department, and 16-week intensive community based treatment.

Extra staff have been brought in to help provide the service.

Dr Chamberlin said the programme was good, but was not a complete solution because poverty was a major driver of Northland's social problems.

"All of these types of programmes, including this really comprehensive programme, are still an ambulance halfway down a cliff rather than getting a fence up at the very top," he said.

More jobs were needed to address poverty, he said.

The police said they were dealing with methamphetamine related problems - theft, fraud, poor driving, violence, family harm - in Northland most days.

Inspector Dean Robinson said suppliers and high demand users were "trapped by the addictive nature of the drug".

Pressure from gangs, and multiple addictions meant users turned "to illegitimate means to finance their addictions and its impacting their partners, children, and wider whānau," he said.

Police would refer users for treatment where possible.

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