Drug gangs pushing meth in place of cannabis in rural areas - report

Small towns and rural areas in New Zealand are potentially being targeted by gangs who promote methamphetamine use in favour of cannabis to maximise revenue.

That's the findings of new research presented at a major conference on drugs and alcohol being held in Auckland.

The study Determinants of High Availability of Methamphetamine, Cannabis, LSD and Ecstasy in New Zealand confirmed that methamphetamine is more available than cannabis in all areas, and is more available in rural areas and small towns than cities.

"Many small towns in New Zealand have reported very high availability of methamphetamine, and conversely, a shortage of cannabis," said lead researcher Associate Professor Chris Wilkins, from Massey University's SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre

 "Local commentators have suggested drug dealers are deliberately promoting methamphetamine at the expense of cannabis - our study sought to investigate this," he said.

The research showed cannabis availability was notably low in places where methamphetamine availability was particularly high.

Other predictors of high availability of methamphetamine included purchasing from a gang member.

Researchers say the findings suggest that it may be the case that gangs are able to gain monopoly control over drugs markets in small towns and promote methamphetamine in favour of cannabis to maximise revenue.

"We need further research to understand these relationships," said Dr Wilkins. "It may be the case that small towns offer an environment where a gang can control the local drugs market."

The APSAD Scientific Alcohol and other Drugs Conference is the southern hemisphere's largest summit on alcohol and other drugs attracting leading researchers, clinicians, policy makers and community representatives from across the region. 

The Conference is run by the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD), Asia Pacific's leading multidisciplinary organisation for professionals involved in the alcohol and other drugs field.