The war against methamphetamine has failed - Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern says the war against methamphetamine has failed, as shocking new research emerges suggesting the drug is now more accessible in New Zealand than cannabis.

A Massey University preliminary study found that while 13 percent of the 6100 participants could purchase cannabis in less than 20 minutes, 31 percent could purchase meth within the same time frame.

"If we want to get to the issue, we actually have to look at what drives people's drug use in the first place," Ms Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"It's one thing to look at supply - dealing with people who are using solely through the criminal justice system hasn't worked. We do need to make sure we have proper services."

Associate Professor Chris Wilkins, who led the social media-driven study, told the show he was surprised and disturbed to find the problem spread from "Northland all the way down to Southland".

"The big hotspots were places like the Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Manawatu and Northland - those kind of rural regions.

"The results for cannabis are really telling us that sometimes people go to a drug dealer and they can't get cannabis or they can't get what they want, and that's really surprising.

"A lot of people were answering our survey saying [they] really want to use cannabis but methamphetamine is so available and the price is going down."

Dr Wilkins says it raises the question of how drug enforcement money is allocated.

"Do we want to focus on cannabis or do we want to focus on methamphetamine?

"Cannabis is actually quite a hard drug to produce. You've got to grow the plant over two to three months, it's bulky, it has a distinctive smell.

"So in terms of routine drug enforcement, cannabis is so much more vulnerable than methamphetamine."

He suggests meth could be seen as a more marketable drug because suppliers get more addicted users, with a "large proportion" also having mental health problems.

Sixty-five percent of those surveyed in Northland who use the drug described the current availability of methamphetamine as "very easy". Only 15 percent could say the same for cannabis.

Project manager for Te Ara Oranga Jewel Reti agrees, saying in the past five months nearly one person a day is being referred for treatment.

"The financial impact on the whānau is huge. In Northland, we have high levels of deprivation so whanau or individuals are committing crimes to support their habit.

"It does impact on the whānau and the individual in terms of they're losing jobs, they're not able to maintain work because of their use. There are child protection issues in terms of who is looking after the children when the parents are using."

Te Ara Oranga is a Northland District Health Board programme which refers users to treatment resources. Dargaville's meth detox unit has only four beds, Ms Reti says - and a six-week wait.

"But while that is just one option, we also have treatment options where we have practitioners who support these clients.

"We support people during the wait time to continue to engage in treatment."

Detailed analysis of Massey's findings will be presented to the Ministry of Health and other government agencies later this month.