Young people are getting hooked on a new form of heroin as dealers find drugs to fill the gap left by record seizures of P.
In the first three months of this year, customs officers have seized twice the amount of the precursor used to make P than in the same period last year.
They seized the equivalent of about 700,000 methamphetamine pills from January to March last year, compared with about 1.4 million in the first quarter of this year.
Authorities believe the seizures are forcing drug dealers to turn to other drugs as P becomes more difficult to make and sell.
Christchurch police, health professionals and drug counsellors have noticed a rise in the past year in the number of young people using the new form of the drug, known among users as "spotting", a name derived from the way it is taken.
Detective Sergeant Dorothy McPhail, of the Christchurch organised-crime unit, said the drug was a "new form of homebake heroin in liquid form sold in dots on sheets of tinfoil".
The drug is then smoked off the foil.
"It seems to be a younger group that is using it. That seems to be the trend. It is something new that we have come across," she said.
The Canterbury District Health Board's community alcohol and drug service clinical head, David Stoner, said more young people were becoming addicted to opiates.
"We have seen an upsurge in younger people in their late teens and early 20s who are smoking opiates. There has been a definite rise," he said.
"When you see young people being introduced to opiates in that way, it can lead them to intravenous use as well, and all the problems that entails."
Christchurch City Mission youth alcohol and drug counsellor Michelle Holden said many young people were getting addicted to the substance without realising it was a hard drug.
"To them they are just smoking another thing and they don't realise they are smoking a hard drug," she said.
"This seems to be a gang-related thing where they are introducing this [new drug] because the police are making progress with the precursor drugs for P."
City Missioner Michael Gorman said the drug was a "new phenomenon", but there was also a rise in the number of people arriving at the mission with P addiction.
"Customs may be discovering more, but the number of cases of P we are seeing is on the increase with young people," he said.
"A year ago, hardly any young people were presenting with P problems. That is not the case now."
New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme national manager Charles Henderson said it was a concern that young people were taking the drug, but smoking was a less dangerous way to take it than injecting.
"It is smoked mostly, and we would say that is a good thing because it moves people away from injecting, which is the riskiest behaviour of all," he said.
"There are still some health risks associated with smoking it as well."
The new drug is a synthetic opioid which is smoked. The drug is sold in small dots of a resin-like substance on sheets of foil. The name of the drug is derived from the method used to smoke it, which is also sometimes used for marijuana consumption.
Effects: Brief euphoria, mellow mood and sleepiness.
Cost: About $5 a hit.
Health impact: Long-term dependence, cardiopulmonary problems from smoking and some risk of hepatitis C.Source: New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme
By CHARLIE GATES
April 29, 2010