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December 2008
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Congress targets chemical diversion

NZ Police hosted the Chemical Diversion Congress at the end of November; Detective Inspector Stuart Mills, who played a key role in organising the conference says, "this sends a clear domestic and international signal that we are committed to preventing illicit drug related crime and reducing the harm caused by illicit drugs.”

From left: Commissioner Howard Broad, Minister of Police, the Hon Judith Collins, Gemma Smyth of the Australian Attorney General’s Office and Detective Inspector Stuart Mills at the launch of the National Chemical Diversion Congress.
Photo: Senior Constable Bruce Hutton QSM FPSNZ

New Zealand has one of the highest addiction rates to Methampetamine or P as it is commonly known. It is the stimulant most commonly associated with violence, antisocial behaviour and mental health problems.

“Holding this congress in Wellington provides a timely opportunity to expose a good number of New Zealand and international delegates to precursor diversion activities taking place in New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific and other parts of the world,” says Stuart.

There is no doubt that chemical diversion is an international issue. The criminals moving precursors along the supply chain see international boundaries as no barrier. In fact, the trend is for criminals to use the boundaries to their advantage, sending shipments from one place to another to cover their tracks, before they reach their final destination.


However 70 percent of methamphetamine precursors are sourced nationally. The methamphetamine industry in this country is now worth an estimated $1.2 billion.

This September, New Zealand Police lost Sergeant Don Wilkinson in the line of his duty as a covert operative. Don was trying to install a tracking device onto a car connected with a suspected P lab, in Māngere, Auckland. He and his partner were discovered, and as they fled, Don was shot and killed. His partner also received multiple shots but survived.

This event was not only a shock to police, it was a shock to the country. The media storm which followed gave the general public its clearest picture yet of our P problem – that in suburban streets, in suburban houses, lived in by suburban families and children, people are manufacturing this dangerous and highly addictive drug.

“P use is not confined to a sad underclass who don’t know any better. It crosses all socio-economic boundaries, wrecking the lives of wealthy, poor and middle-class people, destroying families, skewing the values of those who would otherwise be responsible, productive, law-abiding citizens,” says Stuart.

Research conducted by Massey University, using police data, has indicated a strong correlation between methamphetamine use and property crime. Recent data from the Illicit Drug Monitoring System backs this up, reporting increased involvement in crime for frequent methamphetamine users.

“We need to target the importers, manufacturers, dealers and suppliers and we need to do more to make the risks real to people who would embark on this path,” says Stuart.

“This includes people involved in the diversion of chemicals and the obtaining of precursors for subsequent manufacture. We must use every tool to find these people and strip them of their assets.”

At the strategic level, New Zealand Police thinking on reducing and preventing drug-related harm, which includes diversion of chemicals into illicit drugs, has been tied together into the Illicit Drug Strategy to 2010, which is nearing completion.

It focuses on a three-pronged approach: reducing supply, reducing demand, and reducing harm. All these prongs must be used to bring about change at the front gate.

“Operationally we can claim a number of successes,” says Stuart. Operation Viper, Operation Web and Operation Leo chalked up notable victories this year.

Operation Viper alone resulted in 73 arrests across the Wellington District and the seizure of $500,000 worth of drugs plus firearms.

Operation Web brought together Police, Customs and Corrections with the objective of investigating the importation and distribution of controlled precursor drugs by 12 offenders, including 8 who were inmates of Auckland Prison and the Spring Hill Correction Facility. During the six-month operation, Customs and Police seized significant volumes of precursor chemicals and Customs intercepted some 20 kilograms of Contac NT.

The seeds of a strengthened whole-of-government approach have been planted and, as Operation Web shows, are already sprouting.

A joint working group comprising Ministry of Health, Police and Ministry of Justice officials is investigating options for reducing precursor availability via domestic diversion in New Zealand and is due to report to Government on recommended options in March 2009.

The congress will provide an opportunity to consider and discuss initiatives that have worked internationally, including Australia’s Project STOP.

Seventy percent of methamphetamine precursor identified in detected clan labs is sourced nationally. That’s the packs of cough and cold medicine bought over the counter at pharmacies. Intervention at this stage of the supply chain has considerable knock-on effects, as demonstrated by the Australian experience.

In Australia an electronic recording and reporting tool means pharmacists are able, but not required, to refuse sale to a person who has already bought pseudoephedrine that day. It was trialled in Queensland in 2005, then rolled out across Australia a year ago. Since then, 18,000 sales of pseudoephedrine have been declined.

In the UK, there is a current proposal to reclassify pseudoephedrine as a prescription only medicine. The UK also actively promotes products containing a pseudoephedrine alternative, phenylephererine.

“My hope is this congress will provide an opportunity for delegates to share ideas and develop strategies that will be the basis for resolving the meth problem. Removing methamphetamine and other illicit drugs from our streets will save lives, reduce crime and make New Zealand safer for everyone,” says Stuart.

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