Wastewater drug testing leaves 'a lot of questions unanswered', drug research expert says

Sixteen kgs of meth is used by Kiwis every week, New Zealand police have found through wastewater testing.

The tests, which took place between November 2018 to January 2019, tested for methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, MDMA and fentanyl.

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Massey University associate professor Chris Wilkins joined Breakfast this morning to explain New Zealand’s meth problem. Source: Breakfast

"I don't think it's much of a surprise that people find out that there's high levels of meth use in Auckland and the east coast, and that New Zealand has a big methamphetamine problem," Massey University associate professor Chris Wilkins said on TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.

"It's pretty much just telling us what we already knew from other research, from other survey work and I think we've got to be a little bit cautious because this just shows one metric, so all it tells us is what the total amount of a drug was, consumed at a specific location at a specific time and yeah, the science is impressive but, you know, I think we’ve got to keep it in perspective a little bit."

Mr Wilkins said the findings leave "a lot of questions unanswered" in terms of who is using the drugs and, ultimately, what services should be provided for them. 

"The good thing is that it's great science so it’s very accurate estimations of quantity and you can do it quite frequently, so you can really look at trends over time – over a week or over a long time – but it really leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

"All we've got is sort of total quantity of drug, whereas, what we really want to know [is] what are the types of people using it? Are they employed, not employed? Are they rich? Are they poor? Are they Māori, non-Māori? And are they actually experiencing any harms from that level of drug use, and therefore, what kind of services do we need to provide them?"

He said while the findings were revealed by police, he would have liked to see health agencies and the Ministry of Health getting involved as part of the Government's push towards a more health-based approach.

"We're very much moving towards this health-based approach, and in that case, it would have been really good to see the health agencies and the Ministry of Health involved in that and say, really, the end game is, as I said, you really want to respond to people that are having problems with drug use and providing them with survives and help, and this one metric doesn't necessarily help you with that."