The aim of the New Zealand Arrestee Drug Use Monitoring (NZ-ADUM) study is to monitor trends in alcohol and other drug use among police detainees in New Zealand, and to document the harms associated with this substance use. NZ-ADUM tracks key indicators of illegal drug markets, such as availability and price, and identifies emergent new drug types, such as synthetic cannabinoids. NZ-ADUM also assesses the level of demand for drug treatment services among police detainees, and the barriers they experience in accessing these services. The 2016 NZ-ADUM interviewed 800 police detainees at four central city police watch houses (i.e. Whangarei, Auckland Central, Wellington Central and Christchurch Central) from June to October 2016. Urine samples were collected from 202 of the interviewed detainees to confirm the drug types used. This report presents the findings from the 2016 NZ-ADUM and compares them with the previous five years of the study.
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Date of last publication
Organisation conducting the research
• To measure the level of alcohol, illegal drug, pharmaceutical drug, and ‘legal high’ use among police detainees
• To monitor trends in alcohol and other drug use including the emergence of new drug types
• To investigate the role alcohol and other drug use plays in criminal offending
• To document the level of harm related to alcohol and other drug use
• To monitor trends in the availability and price of key drugs of concern
• To identify the level of demand for help services for substance use problems among police detainees.
Supply of methamphetamine remains high
Consistent with recent record border seizures of methamphetamine made in New Zealand and Australia, we found increasing use and availability of methamphetamine and declining prices. The proportion of detainees who reported using methamphetamine in the past year increased from 26% in 2010 to 38% in 2016. The mean number of days methamphetamine was used increased from 68 in 2010 to 84 in 2016. The mean price of a gram of methamphetamine decreased from $788 in 2014 to $620 in 2016. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported recently that the quantity of methamphetamine seized in East and South-East Asia "almost quadrupled" from 2009 to 2014 (UNODC, 2016).
Increases in methamphetamine supply in Christchurch and Wellington
There were increases in the proportion of detainees who reported using methamphetamine in the past year in Christchurch (up from 20% in 2012 to 32% in 2016) and Wellington (up from 22% in 2011 to 40% in 2016). The availability of methamphetamine was reported to have increased in Christchurch from 2010 to 2016. The price of a gram of methamphetamine declined in Christchurch (from $1,120 in 2014 to $765 in 2016) and Wellington (from $876 in 2010 to $640 in 2016). Growing supply of methamphetamine to Christchurch may reflect the general recovery of the city following the earthquakes there, and greater organised gang involvement in the drugs market.
Some evidence of a cannabis drought
The proportion of detainees in Christchurch who had used cannabis in the past year declined from 81% in 2010 to 66% in 2016. Cannabis was considered increasingly difficult to obtain in Whangarei, Wellington and Christchurch. The mean price of an ounce of cannabis increased from $323 in 2014 to $340 in 2016. There were increases in the mean price of an ‘ounce’ of cannabis in Auckland (up from $325 in 2011 to $349 in 2016) and Christchurch (up from $316 in 2012 to $343 in 2016). These findings support anecdotal reports of a "cannabis drought", particularly in the South Island, and may reflect the higher profits available from synthetic cannabinoids and other drugs, and the effectiveness of Police cannabis crop eradication operations.
Lower levels of synthetic cannabinoid use following bans but more dependent use
The banning of all "legal high" products in May 2014 has reduced the use and availability of synthetic cannabinoids, but appears to have left a residual group of dependent users. The proportion of detainees who had used synthetic cannabinoids in the previous 12 months declined from 47% in 2013 to 20% in 2016. There was a decline the proportion of detainees who had used synthetic cannabinoids in the previous year in Whangarei (down from 44% in 2014 to 5% in 2016), Auckland (down from 40% in 2013 to 20% in 2016), Wellington (down from 50% in 2014 to 21% in 2016) and Christchurch (down from 53% in 2013 to 26% in 2016). However, the proportion of detainees who used synthetic cannabinoids and felt dependent on them increased from 17% in 2013 to 29% in 2016. Christchurch continues to be a hotspot for synthetic cannabinoid use, although levels of use there are now more consistent with the other locations. The proportion of Christchurch Central detainees who used synthetic cannabinoids and felt dependent on them increased from 24% in 2013 to 47% in 2016. These findings suggest there is a need to attract more synthetic cannabinoid users to drug treatment and other help services.
Rising prices for black market synthetic cannabinoids
The impact of the May 2014 "legal high" ban can also be seen in rising prices for synthetic cannabinoids. The mean price of a gram of synthetic cannabinoid increased from $11 in 2013 to $19 in 2016. The gram price of synthetic cannabinoids increased in Whangarei (up from $10 in 2014 to $22 in 2016), Auckland ($11 in 2013 to $19 in 2016), Wellington ($9 in 2013 to $24 in 2016) and Christchurch ($11 in 2013 to $17 in 2016).
A developing black market for synthetic cannabinoids
The 2014 ban on synthetic cannabinoids appears to have been particularly effective in reducing the availability of these products in Whangarei, perhaps due to the easier availability of natural cannabis as an alternative. In contrast, the availability of synthetic cannabinoids was reported to be increasing over the past year in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in 2016, suggesting a developing black market for these products. Synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured overseas, sold from websites and shipped via international mail. They contain untested and often toxic compounds manufactured without any safety standards.
Alcohol, methamphetamine and cannabis most responsible for drug related harm
The detainees named three drug types as mainly responsible for their substance use problems: alcohol (78%), methamphetamine (33%) and cannabis (32%). Nine percent attributed their substance use problems to synthetic cannabinoids. There were increases in the proportion of detainees who attributed their substance use problems to alcohol (up from 69% in 2014 to 78% in 2016), cannabis (up from 23% in 2014 to 32% in 2016) and methamphetamine (up from 14% in 2010 to 33% in 2016). Increases in the proportion of detainees who attributed their substance use problems to methamphetamine were found in Whangarei (from 12% in 2010 to 35% in 2016), Auckland (up from 21% in 2010 to 35% in 2016), Wellington (up from 14% in 2010 to 37% in 2016) and Christchurch (up from 8% in 2010 to 27% in 2016).
Declining levels of heavy drinking?
The mean number of days on which the detainees reported drinking alcohol in the previous year declined from 101 in 2013 to 76 in 2016. The number of standard drinks consumed on a typical day of use decreased from 17 in 2013 to 15 in 2016. The proportion of detainees who had been drinking prior to their arrest declined from 41% in 2013 to 28% in 2016. There are a number of possible explanations for this reduced drinking among the interviewed detainees, including greater use of Pre-Charge Warnings for minor alcohol offences and hence fewer heavy drinkers available for interview in police cells, and reduced opening hours for alcohol venues which may have a greater impact on heavy drinkers.
Declining use and availability of ecstasy
The proportion of detainees who had used "ecstasy" in the previous year decreased from 28% in 2011 to 14% in 2016. Use of ecstasy in the previous year declined in Whangarei (down from 36% in 2011 to 10% in 2016) and Christchurch (down from 29% in 2011 to 13% in 2016). The availability of ecstasy was reported to be ‘stable/more difficult’ in the previous six months. The mean price of a pill of ecstasy declined from $50 in 2010 to $38 in 2016. Major police operations against domestic syndicates manufacturing ecstasy substitutes in 2011 and 2012 appear to have led to declining use and availability of ecstasy. A range of substitute compounds, rather than the traditional MDMA, are now commonly found in "ecstasy" in New Zealand and this practice has led to declining prices and increased risk of adverse effects.
Cocaine use remains low
While there has been increasing lifetime experience of cocaine use, there was little change in current use of cocaine which remains fairly low (6%). The detainees had used cocaine on a mean of only nine days in the previous 12 months. Seventy percent of detainees described the current availability of cocaine as either ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’. A possible explanation for growing lifetime use of cocaine may be people taking the opportunity to use the drug while overseas during holidays or for work.
The illicit opioid market remains stable
There was no change in the proportion of detainees who had used an opioid in the previous year from 2010 to 2016 (i.e. 8% to 5%). Forty-four percent of the opioid using detainees felt they were dependent on opioids, and this had not changed from previous years. There was no change in the current availability or price of opioids.