Tuesday, 30 April 2019 - 2:30pm |
National News

First release of National Wastewater Testing results

3 min read

Police Commissioner Mike Bush says Police are continuing to build a clearer picture of New Zealand’s drug use with the first results of the National Wastewater Testing Programme released today.

Results are now available for the first three months of nationwide wastewater testing, which covers around 80% of New Zealand’s population.

The drugs that have been tested for are methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, MDMA and fentanyl.

The preliminary results, from November 2018 to January 2019, show methamphetamine is the most commonly detected illicit drug nationwide, with approximately 16kgs estimated to be consumed on average each week.

The detected average use of methamphetamine translates to an estimated $20 million per week in social harm.

Regional variations in drug use have also been identified with methamphetamine use shown to be most prevalent per capita in Northland, MDMA in Canterbury and cocaine in the wider Auckland region.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush says that, while the results prove the benefits of nationwide wastewater testing, it is only a snapshot of the bigger picture that long-term testing will lead to.

“These early results give us an idea of the potential for this type of data and, as testing continues, it will enhance our understanding of the demand and supply of illicit drugs and the associated harm caused in our communities.

“The long term results will help Police and other agencies make informed decisions around drug treatment services, and initiatives to combat organised crime groups dealing in methamphetamine and other drugs.

“We expect that after twelve months of nationwide testing a robust baseline measure of illicit drug use will be established.

“Three months of results, however, are only an early indicator of illicit drug use levels in New Zealand and cannot yet be used to draw any firm conclusions,” he says.

Results are available here


Key findings

• Average weekly use of the detected drugs has an estimated street value of $9.6 million. This is estimated to generate approximately $500 million of criminal profit annually. 


• Methamphetamine remains the most commonly detected illicit drug nationwide, with approximately 16kgs consumed on average each week.

• Detected average methamphetamine use translates to an estimated 20 million dollars ($20,606,002) per week in social harm. Annually, this could equate to more than one billion dollars ($1,071,512,099).

• Methamphetamine use is most prevalent per capita in the Northland Police District, followed by Eastern District (Hawke’s Bay).


• MDMA was the second most commonly detected illicit drug across the country, with an estimated consumption rate of 4kg on average each week.

• MDMA use is most prevalent in Canterbury District, closely followed by Southern District (Southland). 


• Cocaine was detected in low quantities, approximately 700g on average each week. This indicates a much smaller user base and likely reflects less demand and supply associated with the drug.

• Cocaine use is significantly more prevalent in the Auckland region (per capita) than anywhere else in the country. 


• Overall Fentanyl consumption averaged less than 3g per week.

• The apparent prevalence of fentanyl in Northland District, compared to other districts, must be viewed with caution as detected average usage across all testing sites is extremely low.

• The aim of testing for fentanyl is to establish a baseline of consumption so, over time, Police and the Ministry of Health can determine any fluctuations in the consumption. A baseline for consumption remains unclear at present.

• As fentanyl has only been tested for very recently, it is too early to draw conclusions about what proportion of the fentanyl in wastewater is illicit. 


• Heroin was not detected at any of the testing sites between November 2018 and January 2019. This is consistent with other indicators that the opiate user population in New Zealand is very low.

Note to media:

Assistant Commissioner Investigations, Serious and Organised Crime, Richard Chambers will be available for phone interviews from 3pm to 4pm this afternoon. Please contact media@police.govt.nz

Issued by Police Media Centre