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Putting the squeeze on hard drugs at the border

Customs putting the squeeze on hard drugs at the border

Dramatic increases in the seizures of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, precursors used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, show the government is moving in the right direction to curb a new hard drug problem in New Zealand, Customs Minister Rick Barker said.

“Between 1 January and 5 May this year, Customs seized in excess of 315,000 ephedrine and pseudoephedrine-based tablets at the border. This compares with 254,000 for the whole of 2002, 32,600 tablets in 2001 and just 10,300 the year before.

“Had the tablets seized so far this year reached their destination, Customs estimates the precursor ingredients would have produced well over 1kg of pure methamphetamine (‘P’), with an estimated street value of NZ$1 million.”

Mr Barker said Customs’ drug investigators believed the sudden increase in precursor seizures at the border reflected reduced availability of domestic ingredients.

“Work by the police with the Pharmacy Guild and other organisations to limit domestic supply of precursor chemicals appears to show that domestic illicit drug manufacturers have turned elsewhere for the necessary ingredients to fuel their criminal enterprises.”

Customs will now move to further squeeze precursor supply at the border by boosting its dedicated illicit drug enforcement teams.

Almost $2 million ($1.9m) has been allocated from this year’s budget to enlarge Customs’ drug teams in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, securing the employment of a further 12 specialist investigators and four intelligence analysts.

“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 is moving to meet this problem head on.”

Mr Barker said studies on the use of illicit drugs such as P and MDMA (ecstasy) in New Zealand made for worrying reading.

“Studies estimate 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.

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

Mr Barker said the problem confronting Customs is made more difficult by the increase in travellers, mail and imported goods.

“Over 70 per cent of New Zealand’s major drug seizures were the result of proactive operations so with further resourcing, Customs’ effectiveness will be greatly enhanced.

“Customs will have more staff and more eyes on the border, which for drug smugglers means the risk of them getting caught will increase.

“P, ecstasy and other illicit drugs are doing great harm to people in this country and Customs will work even harder to ensure that less of these drugs make it onto our streets,” Mr Barker said.

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