Police choose help over handcuffs with P users

Police choose help over handcuffs with P users

Police have had a surprising response to a text they sent suspected meth users, asking if they wanted help with their addiction.

The text told them their number had been uncovered in a raid on drug dealers in Waitemata.

It said: "Your number has communicated with this person. Please be assured you will not be prosecuted."

Instead, the text offered three options for help - a helpline, alcohol and drug services or contact a detective directly.

Of the 140 texts sent, 20 people did actually go direct to police for help. But where do police draw the line between helping someone or charging them?

Mark Cowan was a familiar name to police for 20 years, racking up convictions that all revolved around meth. 

"It was my world," says Cowan. "It was my life. Methamphetamine was the love of my life. I loved the drug; I loved doing whatever I had to do to get it, and that was my life."

But his life took a turn when the courts forced him to go to a rehab centre. Two years later, he now works there as a counsellor, and he knows people who were sent the text from police offering help.

"I still have family members and friends who are still participating in whatever they have to do, and when we heard this, actually I made a comment and said, 'Why don't they take it?' You know, tell them to call them."

Twenty people did contact police, who met with them face-to-face. Some were wealthy company executives.

"It's quite surprising the high percentage of those people actually hadn't had anything to do with the police until they received our e-text, and so I think it was a bit of a wakeup call," says Detective Senior Sergeant Stan Brown.

Police say the idea is to cut the number of meth users they may have to deal with in the future, while also gathering intel from them about other dealers. They say it's more beneficial than charging every meth user.

"It's a really circumstantial thing," says Det Snr Sgt Brown. "There's not a firm line about what should we do on this occasion. It is very much a case-by-case still.

But he says it's not turning a blind eye.

"Oh definitely not - turning a blind eye is not what we are here to do. We will always prosecute people in the right circumstances."

But for those that choose a bed in rehab rather than jail, the waiting list in Auckland is around four months, and that can be a long time for an addict to change his or her mind.