Homebake heroin labs found by police in New Zealand for first time since 1980s

For the first time since the mid-1980s, homebake heroin labs are being found by police in New Zealand.

Newshub can reveal that in just the past few months, six such labs have been discovered in Auckland.

It has police and harm reduction experts worried about a possible rise in overdoses.

Heroin users in New Zealand have always relied on black market pharmaceuticals to get high.

But new police photos show equipment and chemical waste from a drug-making process rarely seen in this country.

"These five or six labs now are unusual and we haven't seen an emergence of homebake laboratories since the 1980s," says National Drug Intelligence Bureau national manager Detective Inspector Blair Macdonald.

A June 2021 Police intelligence report, obtained by Newshub, notes: "There's been a 'likely increase in small-scale illicit labs producing homebake heroin in powdered form'."

They've "not been routinely detected since the 1980s".

In January 2020, Pharmac ceased its subsidy of morphine sulphate tablets known as 'Arrow LA'.

"It's likely domestic supply has run out," the report states.

Pharmac is now funding m-Elson capsules, which are harder to convert into heroin.

The old Arrow-branded tablet could be easily made into heroin. Without it, cooks are resorting to codeine and poppy seeds to manufacture the drug.

"The risk with any powered drug and in this case powdered heroin is that it can be adulterated with other substances," Det Inspt Macdonald says.

And this means an increased risk to users.

"The potency is unknown so there's just a greater likelihood that someone could overdose and unfortunately die," says NZ Needle Exchange Programme harm reduction lead Jason George.

George says while there are difficulties with nationwide access to an anti-overdose medication called Naloxone, he's urging users to try and source some.

"Get some Naloxone. Check with your local Needle Exchange to see if it's available and have a supply. You might be able to save a mate's life," he says.

Auckland University School of Pharmacy senior lecturer Dr Rhys Ponton has interviewed heroin users as part of his research.

"Availability of a smokeable form of heroin is something that is very new to New Zealand. We have never really had this - at least not since Mr Asia in the late 1970s," he warns.

And that could appeal to first time users who don't like needles.

"And of course that's a very easy in for people," he adds.

Police say the reemergence of homebake labs does not mean heroin use is increasing in New Zealand.

But it does increase risks to users and to police staff and the public, with the report saying an increase in accidental explosions is possible.