'P' is for Panic: Meth contamination testing blown out of proportion

by Joanna Wane / 09 April, 2018
Has the frenzy over a supposed epidemic of meth contamination been revealed as a fizzer?

Protestors cross the Waitangi Bridge as they make a stand against methamphetamine abuse, Waitangi Day, 2017. Photo: Getty/Cam McLaren.

RelatedArticlesModule - meth

Testing houses for meth contamination could be overkill

When figures released under the Official Information Act showed Housing New Zealand had spent $51.9 million on testing and remediating meth-contaminated properties in the 2016/2017 financial year – compared to barely $1 million on dealing with mould and asbestos – questions were raised over whether the Government had its priorities straight.

“Thirty thousand children are hospitalised each year from preventable housing-related diseases: asthma, pneumonia and bronchiolitis,” Philippa Howden-Chapman, the director of Otago University’s housing and health research programme, told Newsroom. How many had become ill from meth contamination, rather than being in cold, damp, mouldy, unsafe houses? “Absolutely none.”

Last June, a new standard was announced with much fanfare, tripling the acceptable level of residue in P-positive homes to 1.5 micrograms per 100cm2. Now, new Housing Minister Phil Twyford has put the whole thorny issue back on the table, saying even the revised figure is set too low to make a meaningful distinction between contamination that may pose a health threat and contamination that does not.

He’s asked for a fresh report on the Ministry of Health guidelines and has previously called for regulation of the meth-testing industry. Also flagged is a change of the policy that’s seen Housing NZ tenants evicted and some 900 properties left vacant after testing positive for meth. Instead, if tenants or family members have a drug problem, it will be treated primarily as a health issue.

“There’s no question, there has been a moral panic about meth contamination, and a meth-testing industry has grown up around it, stoking that moral panic and exploiting it to make a buck,” Twyford told North & South. Private landlords have been hit in the pocket, too, with insurers hiking annual premiums and raising the standard excess for meth-related claims to as much as $2500.

What the new standard fails to do is differentiate between recreational drug use and the toxic traces left by a meth lab (with all the other chemical substances involved in cooking up P). When Dr Nick Kim, a senior lecturer in environmental chemistry at Massey University, tested the residue left on walls by meth smokers, he found the potential health effects of living in a house where people had smoked P in the past were no worse than those of tobacco, or handling meth-contaminated bank notes.

No one, including Twyford, is underplaying the social damage caused by meth. A 2015 survey found New Zealand had the fourth-highest rate of usage in the world (behind El Salvador, the Philippines and Australia). Results from the first drug-sampling of Auckland’s wastewater, released last year, put meth way out in front of the 17 illegal substances that were tested for. And while so-called “party drugs” such as MDMA (ecstasy) were detected almost entirely on weekends, meth showed up consistently throughout the week.

A University of Auckland study of more than 1000 clandestine meth labs identified five North Island “hot spots”, including the Far North, Hamilton and Helensville. However, importation of the finished product by organised-crime gangs from places such as India and China is reportedly growing and driving down the street price; in many parts of the country, it’s now easier to get and cheaper to buy than weed.

This was published in the February 2018 issue of North & South.



Latest

Why the vicar of Grantchester is James Norton's most complex character yet
91260 2018-05-22 00:00:00Z Television

Why the vicar of Grantchester is James Norton's mo…

by Fiona Rae

Actor James Norton has played a painter, a prince and a murderer, but none has been so conflicted as Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers in Grantchester.

Read more
The seven big threats to KiwiBuild
91218 2018-05-22 00:00:00Z Property

The seven big threats to KiwiBuild

by Nikki Mandow

KiwiBuild aims to provide 100,000 homes over the next decade. But can it deliver? Some in construction regard the target as hopelessly over-ambitious.

Read more
Win the Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
91256 2018-05-21 16:48:31Z Win

Win the Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Po…

by The Listener

To celebrate the arrival of Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive to Sky Arts, the Listener is giving away copies of his complete tales and poems.

Read more
Get the best of both worlds at 1947 eatery
91249 2018-05-21 16:27:35Z Auckland Eats

Get the best of both worlds at 1947 eatery

by Kate Milliken

Metro Top 50 restaurant 1947 eatery is all about the traditions of Indian cuisine in a sleek, modern setting.

Read more
A Garage Project party, a film about Coco's Cantina and other Auckland food news
91214 2018-05-21 14:22:42Z Auckland Eats

A Garage Project party, a film about Coco's Cantin…

by Kate Richards

What’s happening and what’s coming up in Auckland food.

Read more
Siri, what the hell is happening in Westworld?
91196 2018-05-21 10:38:46Z Television

Siri, what the hell is happening in Westworld?

by Greg Dixon

The revolting robots of Westworld’s first series are back with a vengeance in the second outing – and it's all quite confusing.

Read more
Government cans plans for mega-prison at Waikeria
91188 2018-05-21 08:50:48Z Social issues

Government cans plans for mega-prison at Waikeria

by Craig McCulloch

Plans to build a new mega-prison at Waikeria have been scrapped, but the government has yet to decide what to do instead.

Read more
Auckland Council stalled release of reports
91183 2018-05-21 07:20:04Z Auckland Issues

Auckland Council stalled release of reports

by Todd Niall

The release of the $935k consultants' report on a downtown stadium was the third time RNZ had to resort to the Ombudsman to extract public information

Read more