P policy should be based on science | The Jackal

6 Jun 2017

P policy should be based on science

With the meth epidemic in New Zealand at an all time high, you would expect the government would be launching some new initiatives to get people off this harmful illicit drug and reduce the associated crime and social harm it causes.

Yesterday, the NZ Herald reported:

Home buying and the meth mine-field 
Buying a home these days is fraught. First you have to find one you can afford (tricky in Auckland's market), and then - more often than you might think - ensure it is not contaminated by methamphetamine.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of meth usage in the world (a 2015 world survey found us fourth just behind El Salvador, Philippines and Australia).

Meth (also referred to as P) can be made out of readily available household products plus one more ingredient, ephedrine.

So what exactly is the government going to do about it?

Dr Leo Schep, a toxicologist at the National Poisons Centre, at the University of Otago, is one.

He believes that when addressing problems associated with contaminated houses, there are two separate issues - "a house where someone smoked methamphetamine, or a house that was used to manufacture methamphetamine".

In a post on the science media website, he says that "people living in a laboratory environment risk suffering adverse cardiovascular, respiratory and dermal effects following the exposure to organic solvents, acids, alkalis and other chemicals.

However, people living in a house where previous tenants had smoked methamphetamine, and there is some evidence of low concentrations on surfaces, have minimal risks of toxicity."

The standards were reviewed last October by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

That resulted in a recommendation to increase the level of meth needed to warrant a clean-up by up to four times the previous guidelines. But that hasn't solved the issue.

To date the Standards New Zealand (now MBIE) process has not resulted in an outcome - one is expected later this month - but the presence of guidelines endorsed by MOH mean that players in the property market must pay attention to them.

Oh dear! It appears that because there are too many houses testing above the threshold and it’s very hard to prove toxicity in people, the government is likely to just triple the threshold so that more houses are deemed safe and can therefore be sold without any proper warning?

Just like National's wadeable rivers fiasco, this is pure madness!

National couldn’t be more unscientific and blinded by free market idealism if they tried. What Bill English et al needs to understand is that science doesn’t just conform because the government changes their god damn policy.

Keeping the housing bubble artificially inflated by selling off P contaminated houses without due process is clearly not a good idea. It will simply put more families at risk and put more people into hospitals.

I wonder what else this so-called meth expert recommends the government do?

Indeed Kim, in a 2016 paper, compares the traces of meth found on banknotes to those found in houses where the drug has been smoked.

"Internationally, detection of drug residues including methamphetamine on banknotes has not been interpreted as a direct cause for public health alarm, and there is no prospect of any jurisdiction requiring that banknotes be decontaminated between users.

"In a hierarchy of relative health hazards and risks, contaminated banknotes and houses where methamphetamine has been smoked would be at the low end of any scale."

I get the feeling Kim is busy downplaying the adverse effects of P contamination for a reason. Clearly comparing banknotes to houses is plain stupid! It’s not a scientific way to analyse the level of safety for a poison. You don’t prepare meals or eat off a bloody banknote for instance.

Of course there does need to be an actual standard, but even 0.50 micrograms is a very high level to be deemed unsafe. Most poisonous substances are deemed unsafe at levels well below that. 1.50 is going to ensure P contaminated houses adversely affect more Kiwi’s without them knowing about it.

I don’t mean to be alarmist, but when your neighbour's cat is probably sucking on the pipe, trying to change science with a short-sited policy at the behest of people with vested interests simply isn’t going to cut it.

We need a real solution from the government to get people off P… we need safe affordable housing in New Zealand and like most things in this fine country; only a change in government is going to provide it.