Characteristics of Amphetamine-Type Stimulant (ATS) Use in New Zealand: Informing Policy Responses

Article excerpt


New Zealand has recently experienced dramatic increases in seizures of amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS) drugs and detections of clandestine amphetamine laboratories. Secondary analysis of ATS drug use in New Zealand from the 2001 National Drug Survey highlighted the greater harms associated with frequent ATS use and identified potential risks associated with increased use of ATS, such as the spread of intravenous drug use and the increased demand for other "hard" drug types. Crystal methamphetamine users emerged as the ATS-using group with the highest levels of daily use, poly-drug use, intravenous drug use and opioid use. The findings suggest New Zealand drug treatment and law enforcement resources will be more effective when applied to frequent ATS and crystal methamphetamine users. The work also underlined the rationale for an indicator drug survey that can track changes in drug-use patterns, including levels of intravenous administration, within a time frame that allows effective agency responses before drug problems become entrenched. The Office of the Commissioner of New Zealand Police has already made progress in this direction.


Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are a group of synthetic illicit drug types which include methamphetamine, ecstasy and crystal methamphetamine (United Nations Drug Control Programme 2001). Over the last five years New Zealand has experienced dramatic increases in seizures of ATS drugs and detections of clandestine amphetamine laboratories (Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs 2002, New Zealand Customs Service 2002, Wilkins et al. 2002). Annual detections of amphetamine laboratories by New Zealand Police increased from just one in 1998 to over 200 in 2003 (New Zealand Police 2004). Border seizures of ecstasy made by the New Zealand Customs Service increased from less than 3,000 tablets in 1998 to 167,000 tablets in 2002 (New Zealand Customs Service 2002) and 260,000 tablets in 2003 (Barker 2004). The rise in the use of ATS drugs in New Zealand has been implicated in a range of social and public health problems including violent crime, mental illness, domestic violence, drug addiction, relationship breakdown, robbery, burglary and car conversion (Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs 2002, Wilkins and Rose et al. 2004, Wilkins and Reilly et al. 2004).

A useful distinction when fashioning a policy response to a drug is between occasional and frequent users of the drug. Frequent users are more likely to experience problems from their drug use, to be involved in the manufacture and sale of the drug, and to recruit others to drug use through example and social networking (Kleiman 1992).

An understanding of how key measures in the illicit market for a drug, such as price and availability, have changed can also inform policy response by signalling how demand and supply for a drug are likely to evolve in the near future. The price of a drug can also provide an indication of the socio-economic status of the user group and, in turn, the level and types of harms the drug may cause individuals and communities. For example, the social damage caused by cocaine increased considerably in the 1980s when it was repackaged and sold as the cheaper "crack" cocaine and so became financially accessible to urban poor (Kleiman 1992). Poor addicted crack users turned to property crime and robbery to finance their drug use, and the explosion in demand for crack fuelled violent confrontations between sellers over lucrative public selling locations (Kleiman 1992). Previously cocaine was sold in the expensive powder form and use was limited to affluent sectors of society, with little impact on crime and violence (Kleiman 1992).

The demographic characteristics and geographic location of a drug-using population can also inform the level and targeting of public resources dedicated to tackling a drug problem.

New Zealand Police sought an understanding of these features of ATS drug use in New Zealand to inform the response of Police and other agencies concerned with the ATS problem. …