Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: "Meth contamination": the making of a moral panic

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  • Lyndon Hood,

    They seem to have lost touch with Housing NZ’s role as a social agency.

    This is the same organisation that was expecting people they couldn't find houses for to pay above the mark for emergency accommodation. So, yes.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Adam H,

    Let’s face it, when you try to bring rationality to an argument that has been subject to moral bullshit for a hundred years it’s a hard ask. Especially for those who didn’t receive an education founded in critical thinking… we take our post-70’s schooling for granted I think.

    I remember when I was at IRD that an Investigator was captured: he’d arranged for a seminar (around 2006) for teams to learn about the ‘risks’ of dealing with people influenced by P. The only evidence cited was the moral outrage of a medical doctor from Nelson, and it ended up being a typical ‘these people are criminals and deserve what they get’ rather than a personal safety briefing.

    I called it out for the poorly founded hyperbole it was by asking about signs of use and referral channels , but he had nothing: “it’s not about helping people who can’t help themselves” – actually I believed that was exactly my job as a public servant.

    I wonder how about the creeping propaganda like this has? I seem to hear a lot of it from my friends who have National Party connections…

    Auckland • Since Oct 2014 • 26 posts Report Reply

  • dave stewart,

    It's not just HNZ that have been paranoid - landlords and letting agents are also testing for P in the absence of any evidence to suggest its presence.
    I had a personal experience of this at the end of last year.
    We moved out of a rental house which we'd occupied for 6 years, and which we'd looked after as if it was our own home - a tidy family home, with a professional dad, a stay at home mum, and two little kids (i.e. hardly your classic P house).
    In the last few days of our lease (but after we'd actually moved out) the DDA van parked conspicuously in our driveway (unnotified to us - tenants are often not extended simple courtesies in these matters) while they presumably tested the house for non-existent P use.
    So there are drug testing businesses, real estate agents, and others all collecting fees from the moral panic, a panic which they help reinforce and perpetuate for profit.

    Since Aug 2014 • 37 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to dave stewart,

    So there are drug testing businesses, real estate agents, and others all collecting fees from the moral panic, a panic which they help reinforce and perpetuate for profit.

    I didn't have room to cover it, but there are quite a few real estate agents setting up a side-business in meth-testing. It's a shocking industry.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I didn't have room to cover it, but there are quite a few real estate agents setting up a side-business in meth-testing. It's a shocking industry.

    Yuck, but I don't feel surprised. I'm struggling to think of an experience I've had with a property agent where we weren't treated like prospective criminals immediately after we signed the lease.... especially in New Zealand. (My wife's had even worse experiences before we met each other, and reached the point where she'd hang up immediately if certain agencies answered the phone from a classified ad.) The times when we were fortunate to deal direct with owners, who actually cared about their houses and about keeping good tenants, were so much better!

    From what I've heard, Housing NZ falls more into the 'agency' way of working with tenants. I wonder how often staff float between HNZ and commercial agencies.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1139 posts Report Reply

  • Luke Williamson,

    Excellent work Russell. Thank you for bringing some sense to this issue. The battle to out bad science is ongoing and it's great to see you and the scientists in this article doing their bit.

    Warkworth • Since Oct 2007 • 296 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Having recently acquired a new property, it was very strongly presented to me as a good idea (and a very expensive one too) by the guy I hired to do a builder's report. From what I could tell it was a real money spinner. My own feeling was that it was insanely unlikely that the house had been used to make meth, and if it had been consumed there I couldn't care less.

    Then I got to thinking that the value of the testing was not so much in how I felt about it, but in how a future buyer might feel about it. I can't account for how ridiculously paranoid other people might be in the future, and that could affect the value of my house.

    I never did the testing, but this chain of thought made it clear to me what a winner that property inspector was onto. The more irrational a fear, the better the money that can be made out of it, at times.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10629 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    The most stomach-turning part of that piece (nice work, btw), for me, was HNZ's internal discussion about drug-testing potential tenants. That is truly, truly vile. As others have observed, HNZ has become completely devoid of any cognisance of its role as a crucial part of the social safety net.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • James Littlewood*,

    No private landlord could consider requiring its tenants to submit to drug testing. In a sense, it creates two different kinds of citizen.

    Bloody hell. In a very real sense.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 410 posts Report Reply

  • Glenn Pearce,

    The problem is the Tenancy Tribunal interpretation makes it virtually compulsory for landlords to "test" between tenancies

    https://tenancy.govt.nz/starting-a-tenancy/renting-affected-properties/renting-a-property-affected-by-methamphetamine-p/

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 499 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to James Littlewood*,

    Where did that quote come from?

    And actually, unless explicitly prohibited by law and backed with enthusiastic enforcement, private landlords could readily do exactly that. If you're looking to rent a house you're not usually in a good position to say "nah, paying for a drug test is a waste of time". There are already markets where turning up to inspections and saying "we'll pay over the advertised rental" is the only way to get a place.

    I have experience with the "would you like to pay $50 then $20/mo subscription fee to our 'rental application management website' or use the free version?" then been told by a real estate agent that the default sort order put all paid subscribers above the non-paying ones when listing applicants (the free version also lacked, among other features, the ability to save anything you typed in for future applications). Explains why we never heard back about any applications... until one of us paid the fee.

    If they said "and pay $100 per applicant for a drug test" and give us the results we'd just suck it up. Albeit if we were moving out and they wanted $1000 to test the place for meth, we'd likely say no or run off to the tenancy tribunal.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1176 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Glenn Pearce,

    Interesting that there's apparently no requirement that "the property" not be contaminated by lead, DDT, radioactive material etc etc. Possibly because properties free of detectable lead, DDT and radioactivity don't exist?

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1176 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Someone might like to enquire how much Housing NZ money has been wasted on unnecessary refits/cleanup operations. I suspect it is many millions. Obviously the human cost of turfing people on the street is pretty terrible, but there is also the cost of houses not built or repaired because money was wasted on the meth scare.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3121 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    HNZ has become completely devoid of any cognisance of its role as a crucial part of the social safety net.

    The government that NZ has re-elected twice deliberately removed that role from HNZ.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19661 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Great work Russell.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Moz,

    there's apparently no requirement that "the property" not be contaminated by lead, DDT, radioactive material etc etc.

    Someone on Twitter pointed out this govt are quite comfortable with state houses containing deadly mould.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19661 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    Someone might like to enquire how much Housing NZ money has been wasted on unnecessary refits/cleanup operations. I suspect it is many millions. Obviously the human cost of turfing people on the street is pretty terrible, but there is also the cost of houses not built or repaired because money was wasted on the meth scare.

    Yes, it's my understanding that HNZ's $22m meth-related budget for 2016 is already in ruins.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    quite a few real estate agents setting up a side-business in meth-testing. It’s a shocking industry.

    WTF! Is this industry just full of scum sucking shit bags and moronic self serving thugs. Is the mafia giving seminars on how to line your own pockets first now?
    And some section of the govt must have a hand in this. If not financial, then by allowing this bullshit to go on.
    There should be a moral panic, not about this. But about the total lack of any kind of morals in the upper portions of our increasingly pyramided society.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1868 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Jull,

    The application of thresholds is useful to discuss, but I keep looking for the information on the accuracy of the test used i.e. the sensitivity and specificity (and from what of evaluation that information was derived). From that information - essentially the rates of true positives and true negatives - the rates for false positives and false negatives can be derived and thence likelihood ratios (LR) for the test being accurate (+) or inaccurate (-) if a house is actually contaminated (at whatever level). A useful diagnostic hermeneutic is in clinical practice is a test is valuable if the LR+ is 10 or more and/or the LR- is 0.1 of less.

    Since May 2007 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    Good journalism, bro.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2929 posts Report Reply

  • william blake,

    The head of the Napier real estate assoc is on record as saying there is a specialist investment market for P contaminated houses, apparently using the contamination as a bargaining lever to buy the houses for cheaps.
    #stateassetselloff #undeservingpoor.

    Since Mar 2010 • 377 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    Someone might like to enquire how much Housing NZ money has been wasted on unnecessary refits/cleanup operations. I suspect it is many millions. Obviously the human cost of turfing people on the street is pretty terrible, but there is also the cost of houses not built or repaired because money was wasted on the meth scare.

    To cut HNZ a little slack, the debate about the relative dangers of smoking vs baking, and in particular whether the 0.5ug level is appropriate for the former as well as the latter, is a pretty new one. If I were an HNZ tenant, and my child had developed respiratory illness after I’d moved in, as, alas, so many HNZ children do (though less than those who don’t get to move into HNZ houses), and the neighbours said the previous tenants of my home had been drug users, and HNZ said “oh yes, we tested and it was above the Ministry of Health guideline, but that’s just for labs, you’ll be fine…”, well, I don’t think I’d find that very reassuring.
    In short: I blame the MoH health guidelines for not being more specific and thus allowing the whole issue to arise, more than I blame HNZ for following the only guidance they had in the matter on whether properties needed cleaning or not.
    N.B. I allow that slack in regard to decisions about cleanup, not putting people out of their homes.

    Also, people do still bake in NZ (albeit less than in the past), and HNZ has a lot of tenants, so they will require a meth cleanup budget even if they’re only cleaning up after labs.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Shulgin,

    Excellent, I am about to head over to Matters of Substance and read the full thing.

    If I could just comment briefly, b 4 heading to the full script, the Ministry of Health Guidelines quoted a Mr Mike Sabin, from Methcon. What the hell is Mike Sabin doing being quoted in a health standard? He wasn't a published academic, just an ex cop with an agenda, that document was just propaganda placed before the politicians, I think RB covered that back in the day.

    But as it turned out, we tax payers paid thousands to an ex-cop to educate vulnerable youth in MSD homes, I hope MSD swiped the walls before Sabin walked in. But no, they helped tailor the programs with Methcon to suit the agenda.

    Anyway, I am about to head to matter of substance.

    NZ • Since May 2011 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Shulgin,

    poor foundations...cheesus next the country will be clamping down on the cornerstone of illicit drug harm in new zeeland...but I digress...as I do...

    chinese precursors and steal...its possible...its possible I was told about this in may...again I digress...is that a kiwi? Fruit...fungus

    just going to the shuan hendy book for clarification...or is the carl sagan book...

    I was gunna mention stereo-isomers, but then who cares about left and right versions of the same compound?

    The cornerstone, poor foundations.

    Great work RB!

    pour foundation here is my concrete truck for the unitary plan, we gunna shade you out with Hi Rise!

    NZ • Since May 2011 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Shulgin,

    $20 million scam...and the rest...almost as much as a new flag expense...funterra...christ give me bank notes to lick...gib board...and a tripple wash...I want to drug test anyone who wants to utter a word to me!

    well cum to your car! Homeless people...thank god for plywood coverup

    NZ • Since May 2011 • 125 posts Report Reply

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