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Customs meeting hard drug problem at NZ Borders

Customs meeting hard drug problem at New Zealand borders

Statement from the Ministerial Action Group on Alcohol and Drugs

The New Zealand Customs Service is boosting its dedicated illicit drug enforcement team to meet a burgeoning hard drug problem in the country, Customs Minister Rick Barker announced today.

The Government has allocated $1.9 million from this year’s Budget to greatly enhance Customs’ drug teams based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch with the task of increased and proactive drug enforcement at New Zealand’s borders.

Customs’ new funding will include the employment of a further 12 specialist drug investigators and four dedicated intelligence analysts.

Speaking in Auckland today at the launch of Project Horizon, a review document of Customs’ current drug enforcement strategies, Mr Barker said the government’s commitment to better resourcing the service in line with the National Drug Policy was welcome and timely.

“The use of illicit drugs world-wide is a mounting problem and New Zealand is no exception. We have an increasing hard drug problem here, fuelled from both domestic and imported supply and Customs needs to be better equipped to meet this problem.”

Jim Anderton, Chair of the Ministerial Action Group on Alcohol and Drugs, said Customs’ increased resourcing was part of the Labour-Progressive Government’s commitment to action on the misuse of alcohol and illicit drugs.

“The Ministerial Action Group has an action plan of 30 items that it is implementing to address alcohol and drug abuse.”

Mr Barker said Project Horizon, a review of Customs’ drug enforcement strategies completed in December 2002, with input from police, health authorities and forensic scientists, concluded that more proactive border enforcement was necessary to meet the increased demand for drugs like ecstasy.

“The upsurge in the supply and demand of amphetamine-type substances has been confirmed by increased Customs border detections of ecstasy and other illicit substances.”

The report estimated that ecstasy use in New Zealand has now topped one million tablets a year.

In the 12 months to December 2002, Customs and Police seized in excess of 255,000 MDMA (ecstasy) tablets or their powdered equivalent at the border. Ecstasy seizures also increased by 3000% from 2000 to 2002.

“In addition, there has been a great increase in the seizure of pre-cursor drugs such as psuedoephedrine, used to make MDMA substances such as ‘P’ or ‘Pure’ – a substance involved in high-profile criminal attacks over the last couple of years,“ Mr Barker said.

However, the Minister pointed out that Customs seizures of ecstasy at the Border were about 15 per cent of the amount believed imported annually.

“The problem confronting Customs is made more difficult by the increase in travellers, mail and imported goods. It’s like searching for a needle on a conveyor belt of hay.

“Proactive drug enforcement is crucial. Over 70 per cent of New Zealand’s major drug seizures were the result of intelligence-based operations so with further resourcing, Customs’ effectiveness at reducing supply at the border will be greatly enhanced.

“Smugglers will have a greater chance of being caught as the odds of them entering the country without detection are reduced.”

Crimes linked to methamphetamine and other illicit substances rose by 28 per cent last year, due partly to a rise in domestic production and the shutting down by police of 147 clandestine drug labs.

The National Drug Policy is due for review and Mr Barker said Project Horizon’s findings would also provide useful information at that time.

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