Tackling P

  • John Key
Prime Minister

Thank you for being here.

Let me acknowledge my Ministerial colleagues.  Let me also acknowledge our serving police officers, customs officers, treatment providers, community workers, volunteers and all of you who care deeply about New Zealand.

It is my privilege to regularly meet with groups like this one to celebrate some of the success stories of our country. 

Today my speech has a different purpose.  I want to talk about a problem that is wrecking lives, wrecking families and fuelling crime.

I'm here to speak about "P".  Methamphetamine, crank, ice, crystal.  Call it what you will.

Everyone in this room knows something of its horrors.  Some of you will have family members or friends who have struggled, or who are still struggling with it.  All have heard stories about the harm it does.

‘P' is a seriously addictive, viciously destructive drug. It's hugely damaging to those who take it and the people who share their lives. It comes hand in hand with violence. It allows gangs and organized crime to flourish. It entices young people into criminal careers. 

P hurts not just users and their families but also law-abiding New Zealanders who suffer from the crime it creates. 

To fuel their habit, many P addicts steal from others, typically stealing $1840 worth of goods each month to fuel their habit. They also finance their habit by dealing drugs in our communities, with a typical P user selling drugs worth up to $5100 a month to our children and loved ones. 

We have all read about the hideous violent crimes that have been committed by P users.  A P-fuelled car chase down the Auckland motorway ending in the death of an innocent 17 year old.   A samurai sword-wielding man on a violent rampage. William Bell and the RSA shootings.

Sadly, P is a very New Zealand problem.  We have one of the highest proportion of P users in the world.   

Some say we can't fight it. It's been around too long. The gangs will never give up.  There's nothing we can do. 

I don't accept that.  And this National-led Government won't accept that.

We will confront the P problem, using the full force of the Government's arsenal. 

My speech today will outline our plans for doing that.

My announcements draw on the work of a cross-Government taskforce that has been led by my Department for the past four months.

It's called on the best experts available, including my Chief Scientist Professor Sir Peter Gluckman. It's involved people who have been battling P for years including treatment providers, frontline police officers, Customs officials, researchers and community action groups.  

I have valued the input of Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne as we have put this plan together. He is delegated with responsibility for the National Drug Policy and he will have a critical role in making our plan against P work. 

I set up that taskforce with a clear mission.  Tell us what we can do to tackle P.

The resulting government action plan on methamphetamine contains a comprehensive set of policy changes.

Let me share its highlights.  The Government's plan has five main prongs:

  1. We will restrict access to the precursor chemicals P is made from.
  1. We will use new powers to break drug supply chains by attacking the gangs and criminal organisations that make, supply and distribute P.
  1. We will ensure more P addicts get the treatment they need to quit by providing more treatment capacity and better routes into treatment.
  1. We will support families and communities to stop people from becoming P users in the first place.
  1. We will provide the leadership needed to ensure that government agencies charged with the responsibility for tackling P get results.

I'm going to outline each of these steps in some detail. 

Controlling Precursors

The first step is about making it harder for people to make P in New Zealand by controlling the availability of precursor chemicals.

As you may know, the main precursor chemical for the making of P is pseudoephedrine.

In New Zealand, pseudoephedrine (or PSE) can be bought over the pharmacy counter in a range of cold and flu medications.

What seems like straight-forward pain and symptom relief to you and me is gold to a drug-cook. 

It's just about all a first time P cook needs to get their drug enterprise started. That's why P cooks are prepared to pay crews of workers to buy it up at pharmacies. And it's why they have developed sophisticated techniques for manipulating pharmacists into giving it to them. 

Of course PSE is also sourced from offshore. However Police find evidence of domestically-bought cold and flu medication in up to one third of the P labs they bust each year.

So there's no doubt that the PSE available in many cold and flu medications is fuelling our P problem.  

That's unacceptable to me.

But I do accept that PSE offers relief from cold symptoms to many New Zealanders.

So the question is, can we provide that same level of relief while also restricting the availability of P to drug-cooks?

That's what I asked my Chief Science Advisor.

Professor Gluckman advises that clinical evidence shows there is a safe and effective alternative to PSE available for cold and flu relief.  It's already being used in up to three quarters of the cold and flu medications Kiwis use.  It's called phenylephrine.

For most people, medications based on this chemical are just as effective as those containing PSE.   

However, there's still a small group of people who may in some circumstances benefit from using PSE-based products instead.  

Based on this advice, and the advice of drugs experts, the Government has decided to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 to make pseudephedrine a Class B2 controlled drug. This will make pseudoephedrine a prescription-only medication. 

Legislation to achieve this will be introduced to Parliament shortly. 

When this law change is enacted it will mean that - as with other Class B2 controlled drugs - very tight restrictions will apply to the circumstances in which a doctor can prescribe pseudoephedrine and the quantities and way in which they can prescribe it. 

However, the alternative - phenylephrine -  will continue to be available in over-the-counter medication. 

This will be a blow to P cooks, and it's a blow I'm pleased to be delivering.

Happily, professor Gluckman has advised that we can be confident this decision won't affect the health of everyday Kiwis. 

I am also prepared to take further action if need be.

The Government's Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD) has made a preliminary recommendation that pseudoephedrine should in future be de-listed as a medicine altogether, meaning it would not be available on prescription. 

Before authorising an outright ban of this sort, I first want to see how effective the new restrictions are and to gather more information.

Accordingly I have asked Medsafe to review the status of PSE as a medicine under the Medicines Act.   If they did recommend a ban, and the Government went ahead with it, I am advised that patients with a specific medical need for pseudoephedrine could still have access to it in tightly controlled circumstances.

I am also concerned about the seemingly ready availability of some of the other chemicals used in the production of P.

Stories of retailers selling in bulk are worrying.  But at the same time I don't want to unduly restrict the availability of these chemicals for law-abiding citizens.  There is a balance to be struck.

So I have asked Ministers Dunne and Collins to examine further means of restricting criminals' access to other chemicals involved in P production. They will report back to me with their recommendations by no later than May next year.

Breaking Gangs and Drug Supply Chains

The second part of the Government's plan is about coming down on the gangs and organized crime syndicates who peddle P for a business.

We know they will respond to a pseudoephedrine ban by trying to get more precursors and P in from overseas, through our ports and through our mail system. 

We will be ready for them.                                                   

At my direction, the New Zealand Customs Service is mobilising its resources against the trafficking of P and its precursors.

Today I am pleased to announce that Customs is establishing new dedicated anti-drug taskforces. 

Customs will direct these taskforces to undertake a series of high-intensity detection and investigation operations aimed at increasing the seizures of P and its precursors.

These taskforces will have access to the specialist detection equipment needed to blitz the channels that P smugglers use to import drugs and precursors into New Zealand.

More than 40 Customs officers will be redeployed to these specialist drug-taskforce duties.

Their work will include undertaking intensive inspection exercises to detect P and its precursors in cargo, fast freight and mail streams.  They will use new techniques that allow them to detect who is bringing in the P, who they're bringing it in for and when they're doing it. 

I'm not going to give the P smugglers a tip-off by revealing what those techniques are.  But what I can tell you is that a trial of them has been very successful. 

Over a two week period in August Customs trialled their new anti-P approach.  It resulted in 26 separate seizures totalling 46 kg of methamphetamine precursors.  This single operation resulted in seven arrests and it prevented the manufacture of up to 13kgs of P, representing a street value of up to $13m.

The impact of this operation on P dealers was swift.  Our intelligence tells us that as a result P became harder to obtain and the street price for precursors spiked.

And all that was achieved in just two weeks. So you can be sure, with the specialist taskforces running on a regular basis, P smugglers will find it very tough.

But breaking up drug supply chains is about more than what happens at the border.

It's also about the gangs and organized crime syndicates who make P in clandestine labs, distribute it, peddle it to users, and profit from its use. 

My Government is coming after them as well.

In response to the priority I have placed on tackling P, the New Zealand Police have developed a new Methamphetamine Control Strategy, which will be operating from November this year.

The Strategy is about disrupting and undermining P-related criminal activity.  It specifically aims to:

  • Use intelligence in new ways to target gangs,
  • work with customs to investigate syndicates who bring in P precursors illegally,
  • target P cooks and
  • seize funds and assets gained through P-related activity.

I won't go into much more detail than that today.  Because if I reveal the specific Police plans we can be sure the P dealers will adapt accordingly.

You can be sure that the Police will have more tools for fighting P at their disposal than ever before. 

Critically, their strategy will make use of the new legal powers this government is making available to the Police through our range of tough new anti-gang legislation.

These include:

  • The Gangs and Organised Crime Bill.  When enacted this will give Police new powers to disrupt criminal gangs involved in the P-trade, including new powers to intercept gang communications, meaning they will find it easier to prosecute key gang figures.  It will also strengthen the law that makes it an offence to be a member of a criminal organisation, double the penalty, and make gang membership an aggravating factor in sentencing. 
  • The Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Bill.  When enacted this will help detect and trace the profits of domestic criminal groups.
  • The Search and Surveillance Bill. When enacted this will provide a more powerful search and surveillance regime, with new examination powers, more straight-forward rules around the use of surveillance devices, and enhanced powers to retrieve electronic evidence.

Most importantly, the new strategy will see Police using new legal tools to hit the gangs where it hurts the most.  In the back-pocket.

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery Act) and the Sentencing Amendment Act we passed this year make it easier for Police to recover property and proceeds of crime from criminals. 

I expect the Police to use these new powers to take the criminal profits from those who make money from the drug trade.  Because I want to see these ill-gotten gains used to control the drug market. 

So today I am announcing that the recovered proceeds of crime that are returned to the Crown will be used to fund anti-P initiatives. This will include additional Police and Customs initiatives to fight gangs and organised crime syndicates. And it will include expanding drug treatment services. 

We will take the profits from the criminals and use them to heal those they have harmed. 

My message to gangs is clear:  this government is coming after your business and we will use every tool we have to destroy it.  We will be ruthless in our pursuit of you and the evil drug you push. 

Better treatment for P-users

Ladies and gentlemen, I am convinced that the two parts of the plan I have just outlined will make a dent in P supply, and ensure there is less of it in our communities.

But they alone won't be enough. 

Because for as long as we have large numbers of P users, and for as long as there are people who want to experiment with P, this ugly problem will plague our country. 

So the announcements I am making today are about fighting criminals.  But they are also about reducing demand for P, by helping addicts quit and deterring new users.

At the moment, too many P users who are ready to quit are not getting the help they need, when they need it.

Earlier this year the New Zealand Herald ran a series of stories about the effects P has on our communities.

One mother told of her desperate attempts to get her son into detox. 

After four years on the drug and constant urging by his family he had finally realised he needed to stay in a specialist addiction service.

But the shortage of treatment beds meant there wasn't a place available. He would have to wait for five to seven weeks.

She watched him cry on the phone, begging to get treatment.

He struggled for several weeks, but without the treatment he needed, fell back into his addiction.

The mother said that for her family it was like holding their breath and waiting and hoping they would get back their happy, wholesome son, brother and father.  They sought help and were told to keep waiting. 

I am determined to do better for families like those.

I am determined to help more P users to quit for life.

So today I am announcing the development of a dedicated treatment pathway for P users.

Starting this year the Ministry of Health will invest an extra $22m in the clinical services needed to ensure there is P treatment available for more than 3000 additional patients over the next three years. 

This investment will be made across different addiction services that cater to the varying needs and backgrounds of P users.

I have asked the Ministry of Health to make their investment wisely, and to ensure that only proven providers are funded to provide these services.

The Government's investment will allow around 2700 additional people to have ready access to one of 20 dedicated new ‘social detox' beds.

These are specialist services where addicts can get the immediate intensive support they need to address their P problem, and that will link them with the follow-up services in their community to help them stay off the drug.

The new funding will also allow up to 400 additional patients to get a longer course of treatment in one of 60 new residential beds that we will fund in specialist facilities, with treatment lasting up to four months. That's a 60 per cent increase in the amount of residential addiction treatment available. 

It's a huge step forward.  But it won't happen immediately.    

It's critical we ensure that these addiction and treatment services are staffed by properly trained employees and proven providers.  There simply aren't enough experts to dramatically expand addiction services overnight. But we can start improving them right now and keep building on them year after year.

So the Government's investment will build up over three years, with up to 700 additional patients receiving treatment over the next year, increasing to 1040 the year after that, and 1400 at full roll out.

This investment will make a difference to hundreds of families. But I don't pretend it will be enough to turn all P users away from their habit. Because some simply won't put their hands up for treatment.

We must to do all we can to encourage them.

Part of the responsibility for doing that falls on Government. 

Police and the Courts already have the power to divert known P-users into treatment.  I have asked my Ministers to ensure they are doing all they can to ensure this power is used wherever appropriate. 

But I am also making it clear to other government agencies that they have a role in helping P addicts get treatment. 

If someone turns up at a Work and Income office for example with obvious signs of P addiction then I want the Work and Income officer to know what he or she can do to help them. 

So I've asked the Ministry of Health to report back to Cabinet early next year about how we can ensure all frontline government staff are properly equipped to provide P users with the information and support they need to get treatment. 

In most cases however, we have to accept that the Government doesn't have the most important role in getting P users into treatment.

Instead, that burden lies with the family and loved ones of P users.

They are the ones who best know the havoc that P addiction wreaks upon their sisters, daughters, brothers and husbands.

So it worries me greatly when I hear stories of families who are at their wits-end trying to get a user to face up to their P-problem.

Too often, they find themselves without the support they need to intervene.

My Government is going to do better for these families.

For a start we will beef up and promote the alcohol and drug helpline so that people know who to call and can get expert help if they're worried about someone using P.

We will also ensure there's a better website with dedicated information on P use, and advice about what they can do to help.

Most importantly, I want to give families and medical professionals the power to help those who aren't ready to help themselves.

It's deeply sad to hear stories of families who know their loved one has a severe P addiction, who can see the harm that addiction is doing to themselves and the people around them, but who are powerless to force them to get help. 

Evidence suggests that once addicts are de-toxed from the drug, they are more able to make rational decisions and accept treatment.  So we need to get them to that first step, get the drug out of their system and get them into effective treatment. 

Right now the only relevant legal tool available to families who want to force their loved ones into treatment is the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966. This Act is outdated and little used. 

It's time there was a more effective legal means for families and doctors to get P addicts into compulsory assessment and treatment.

So I have asked the Minister of Health to review the Drug Addiction Act to ensure that compulsory assessment treatment for severe alcohol and other drug dependence is readily available by civil court order. 

Some may argue this is an incursion on the rights of individual drug users.  Well I say that ignoring their problems isn't good enough.  We have a responsibility to free them from their addiction, if forcing them into treatment is the way to achieve that then so be it.

Supporting whanau and communities to resist drugs and help users into recovery

The steps I have just outlined focus on treating known P users. But we also have to prevent new people getting hooked on P. 

I'm interested in what works. And I'm advised that the best tool we have for putting people off drug abuse is ensuring they get good advice from the people they are closest to, the people they look up to and respect in their own communities.  It could be a family member, a teacher, a coach, a kaumatua or their friends.

So if we're going to get on top of P then every New Zealand community needs to take ownership of the problem.   Our schools, whanau, clubs, and businesses all have a role to play in stamping out P use.

Our Government will help them do that. 

We will promote new Drug Education Guidelines for schools and as I outlined earlier we'll be promoting the drug and alcohol helpline and improving online advice.

We will also continue to fund ‘Community Action on Youth and Drugs' programmes in 29 parts of the country. These programmes support schools, sports clubs and other groups to keep people off drugs. I've directed that they include a specific focus on stamping-out P.

But I know that the efforts of non-Government organisations are just as valuable as our own. I'm heartened by the great work we're seeing these groups do in our communities, and the willingness talented people are showing to help fight P.

In the audience today are members of the Stellar Trust, which is one example of the kind of voluntary organisation that the Government wants to work with as we tackle P.   Today let me acknowledge all those involved in fighting P, and thank you, and others in organizations like yours, for all your efforts. 

We need your help, we are very grateful for it and we want to work alongside you. 

You have a vital role in ensuring fewer people try P and in making our families and communities stronger to fight against it. 

Leadership and Accountability

Ladies and gentlemen, in speaking of these plans I am conscious that their success will depend on the efforts of our frontline government agencies.  Our Police, customs officers, health and other workers. 

I will make their Chief Executives accountable for delivering on this plan. 

They will have to report to me every six months on the actions in the plan, the impact they're having and the progress they are making. 

These indicators will be very clearly set out in a public document I will release next week.  They will be clear, measurable and individual departments will be held responsible for achieving them.

If departments don't make progress towards this plan they will answer to me. I will expect their best efforts and, in return, where they are struggling the Government will stand ready to act. 


Ladies and gentlemen, I don't see the announcements I have made today as the conclusion of all that we will do on P.  These are critical steps.  But if further action is warranted, we will take it.  I am confident that with a clear focus we can make progress together. 

But I'm also realistic about how big the problem is.

I'm not going to claim that when this plan is fully rolled out P will be stamped out for good.  I'd love to promise you that, but I can't.

Throughout the world, wherever leaders have promised to stamp out drug use altogether they have found that to be an elusive goal.  Because drug-dealers and drug-users are notoriously adaptable. 

That's why we have to come at the problem from all directions.  By cracking down on precursors, breaking supply chains, providing better routes into treatment, supporting families and communities and strengthening leadership and accountability.

None of these steps will work in isolation. 

But I am confident that, taken together, they will make a difference.

That difference will save lives.

It will reduce the amount of P on our streets.

It will give families hope.

It will make P dealing harder for gangs. 

It will make our communities safer.

It will free people from the pain of addiction. 

If we can make progress towards those goals we will make this country greater.

We can make that progress, we will make that progress, and that's why I'm proud to be tackling P.

I look forward to working with you to do that.     

Thank you.  

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