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May 26th, 2016

Tackling Methamphetamine in New Zealand

In 2009, New Zealand had a particular problem with abuse of the drug methamphetamine, best known as “crystal meth”, with its user rates being triple the global average. The government introduced its methamphetamine action plan, a multi-agency initiative to address the problem. It applied a combination of police and customs activity to control its import and manufacture, while encouraging users to take up appropriate treatments for addiction.

The initiative

In 2009, in response to this issue, the New Zealand government developed an action plan to combat methamphetamine production and use in New Zealand communities. “The overall goal of this Action Plan is a significant reduction in methamphetamine use, which will lead to a reduction in the harms that it causes.” [3] The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) published the plan and coordinates the actions undertaken as a result.

Working Groups were established to develop new policies and interventions, which were rolled out alongside pre-existing strategies

Reports were published every six months.

The principal components of the action plan were as follows:

  • Stronger controls over methamphetamine “precursors”, such as pseudoephedrine, combined with customs and police activities to disrupt illegal importation from China. (Precursors are used in the manufacture of the drug.)
  • Breaking supply chains through intelligence-led policing.
  • Active use of new legislative tools such as criminal proceeds recovery.
  • More places in alcohol or drug abuse (AOD) treatment for problem methamphetamine users.
  • Build community resilience and ensure that effective education and information is available.
  • Leadership of action on methamphetamine will be strengthened, to ensure that agencies work together.

The challenge

Methamphetamine is a very addictive amphetamine and a potent central nervous stimulant. It is also known as “meth”, “crystal meth”, “ice”, and “glass”. “New Zealand has a unique problem with methamphetamine. It is the only illegal stimulant commonly manufactured in the country and prevalence rates are high by international standards. A recent survey showed that just over 2% of the population had used methamphetamine in the last year.” [1] The global prevalence rate in 2012 was 0.7%, according to the UN.

The mental and physical side-effects include “meth mouth” (damage to the teeth and gums) and an increase in “the risk of cardiovascular problems, convulsions and mental health disturbances, including paranoia and violence ... Responding to methamphetamine takes considerable Police, Customs, Court, Corrections and Health resource.” [2]

The public impact

In the first four years of the action plan, the “estimated number of 16-64 year-old New Zealanders using [the drug] has dropped from 2.2% to 0.9%”. [4] There are a number of positive outcomes:

  • “The use of meth information and resources has increased, with visits to MethHelp rising by 8,740 visits between April and September 2013.
  • “Meth-related calls received by the Alcohol and Drug Helpline increased from 1,256 in 2009 to 4,180 as of June 2013.
  • “The number of Police detainees who have reported participating in an alcohol and drug treatment has also increased, from 499 in 2009 to 1,026 in 2013.
  • “The Ministry of Health has also reported that number of meth users who have accessed residential treatment jumped from 36 in 2010 to 660 as of September 2013.”

Stakeholder engagement

The success of this initiative relies on the engagement of a large number of stakeholders:

  • The New Zealand government, principally the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet along with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, the Department of Corrections and Te Puni Kokiri.
  • Law enforcement agencies, such as the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Customs.
  • Individual health practitioners and corrections officers, and the like have also engaged to support this initiative.
  • Meth users who wish to stop using.

Political commitment

This initiative is government-driven, led by the (DPMC) but incorporating multiple government departments. The government also passed an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 to reclassify ephedrine and pseudoephedrine as Class B2 controlled drugs, thus reducing the availability of a key precursor to methamphetamine.

The government has also funded this initiative - it is not clear what the total budget is, but “Budget 2010 provided [NZD]5.9 million of capital funding to Customs over the next two years to fight the illicit drug trade through enhanced tracking and surveillance.” [5]

Public confidence

There is no specific evidence about public confidence in this initiative specifically. However, confidence in the key stakeholders is high. Confidence in the National Government has varied over the course of the initiative, but John Key’s National government was re-elected in 2011, suggesting that most of the public were confident in their leadership. In 2014, “trust and confidence [was] stable at 78 percent”, and was similarly high in preceding years. [6] Public confidence in the New Zealand Customs is also high. The Colmar Brunton Public Sector Reputation Index identified Customs as “outperforming other agencies on the trust pillar – particularly on trustworthiness, responsible use of taxpayer money, and providing effective services. Customs rated second overall in the public rankings for 2015/2016”. [7]

Clarity of objectives

Clear objectives were established at the outset, and indicators to track progress toward achieving these objectives were also stated. These objectives were a significant reduction in meth use, which would lead to a reduction in the medical and social harms that it causes. The objectives have since been met with a halving of use in the first four years of the plan.

Strength of evidence

There was no pilot study for the overall action plan. However, pilots were conducted for many of the individual initiatives within the action plan, particularly for those in the criminal justice initiatives.  “Sending users to prison can make the problem worse. There are pilots under way that will allow the criminal justice system to respond more effectively to methamphetamine users ...  [These include:]

  • “Justice/Health pilot of AOD clinicians in the courtroom to assist judges with early identification of offenders with … methamphetamine ... problems.
  • “Justice/Health pilot of AOD clinicians in the courtroom to assist judges with early identification of offenders with ... methamphetamine ... problems and make recommendations for further assessment and treatment.
  • “Specialist AOD Offender Teams pilot provides outpatient group AOD counselling for offenders on community sentences and prison-based counselling within the Auckland metropolitan area.” [8]

Furthermore, many initiatives were continuations of previously successful projects, e.g. border patrol and other customs activities or were based on similar interventions that had been successful overseas.


The action plan was given additional legal force, e.g. the amendment of the Misuse of Drugs Act to reclassify pseudoephedrine (see Political commitment above).

The government committed funds to this initiative, as did District Health Boards. The exact cost is not clear, but it does not appear that the initiative has exceeded its budget so the predicted funding was assumed to be feasible.


There is a clear management structure in place, with monitoring and review built in. “A monitoring framework will be used to ensure that the Action Plan delivers results. The … DPMC will be responsible for coordinating ongoing monitoring of the Action Plan and Chief Executives of relevant agencies will be required to report on it to the Prime Minister and Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy. Agencies will be responsible for implementing the Plan.” [9]

Within agencies (e.g., New Zealand Customs), pre-existing management structures will be employed to coordinate staff members, line managers and general management.


Metrics were established at the outset, and progress reports were provided to the relevant government ministers every six months from October 2009 onwards. These reports are also published online at The results have also been used to influence initiatives going forward.


The key actors - the DPMC and the other government department (the Ministries of Health and of Justice) concerned, and the crime control agencies (e.g., the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Customs Service) - are all aligned in wanting to reduce meth use in New Zealand. The goals of this initiative align with the existing mandates of these actors.

The actors are also aligned in seeing the reduction in meth use as part of the country's overall approach to AOD, to ensure that it does not simply move the problem elsewhere.

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