Meth innocence gone up in smoke

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It may have been a late arrival but Central’s Otago innocence regarding methamphetamine has gone up in smoke in the space of just a few years.

Detective Sergeant Derek Shaw, of the Central Otago CIB, said the drug was ‘‘well and truly here now’’ and for every dealer taken out of circulation, another would take their place.

Central Otago was generally at the end of line for supply as the main corridor for methamphetamine’s spread centred around State Highway 1.

The laws of supply and demand governed meth use in Central Otago.

‘‘I’m sure nobody chooses to be addicted to anything, be it methamphetamine, alcohol, gambling . . .It’s the addiction that drives demand, that drives supply, and meth appears to be so addictive.’’

It was also destructive to the user and everyone around them.

He cited one case in Central Otago where, by crossreferencing bank records more than $60,000 had disappeared from an individual’s accounts and savings.

‘‘It could only be attributed to meth use and addiction.’’

Det Sgt Shaw said during investigations related to methamphetamine it was common to ask why ‘‘people get into a [drug] scene, they think they can handle it recreationally, but suddenly it is out of control.

‘‘We sit with people during an investigation and say, ‘How did you get on it mate?’ and they will say, ‘It just took me over’.’’

Meth often led to more widespread crime but that was something the region was not experiencing.

‘‘We have a reasonable abundance of jobs in Central Otago and to a degree people can fund it.’’

It was a fine line. Most dealers dealt with in Central Otago were also ‘‘their own best customers’’ and were dealing to feed their own habit.

That made them different from high-end dealers, who dealt for the ‘‘huge monetary rewards involved’’ rather than for a personal high.

Firearms were also part of the mix, he said. ‘‘Totally embedded with meth is firearms — it is the high-risk, high reward nature of it.

‘‘Anytime we are doing an operation at an address we go appropriately equipped.’’

The operations conducted were also different from 20 years ago, when everyone from the dealer to the procurer was targeted —something police called ‘‘body count’’.

That ‘‘body count’’ could mean 60 to 80 people were arrested in a single operation. ‘‘Now, the focus is to cut the head off the monster.’’

The people identified as part of an investigation were dealt with differently, the focus having switched from trying to charge as many people as possible for drugs offences to a strategy of ‘‘harm reduction’’.

‘‘Our mindset has moved to harm reduction. They’ve cropped up as a user and we go to them and have a conversation — go in and see what we can do to break the cycle.’’

That often involved bringing other other agencies in to work on the harm-reduction goal.

No meth labs had been discovered in Central Otago for some time, but the trickle of the drug into the region was turning into a steady flow and the methods of communication for dealing the highly addictive drug were becoming increasingly sophisticated.