Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: We are, at last, navigating out of the "meth contamination" debacle

106 Responses

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  • Hebe,

    Excellent work Russell. Everything about moral panic you say rings true from my own experience. Last year family were clearing ancient parents’ house after they had lived there for 30 years and readying it to rent on their behalf. It was very habitable and comfortable. We got the local letting agent around for a chat.

    Within five minutes he was getting more and more exercised about the need for P testing: “You never know who’s been in here!!! Half of [upscale suburb] is on P!!!! We test EVERY house for P!! It’s essential.”. At which point I pointed out that two 90-year-olds had lived there for 30 years and that it was not going to happen.

    He changed tack to: “Well when the new tenants move out, it will HAVE to be tested. We (the rental agency) require it.”

    Partner and I inserted fleas in both his ears and told him to go. We were very much left with the impression he had a stake in the testing business.

    In comparison, the next - reputable. - letting manager found no need to mention P, other than to ask an obligatory question on the form.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2893 posts Report Reply

  • VLCNZ,

    News of this report gladdens my heart so much. The moral panic of meth contamination was used as a smoke screen to hide a multitude of ills perpetrated against the most vulnerable people in our society. Thank you Russell for the work you've done.

    Hamilton • Since Aug 2014 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Worik Stanton,

    You did good work.

    It was a classic drug panic.

    Otepoti • Since Nov 2007 • 32 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Appalling. Where's the redress for all the tenants wrongfully evicted and even billed for the cleanup?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19538 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Hebe,

    Within five minutes he was getting more and more exercised about the need for P testing: “You never know who’s been in here!!! Half of [upscale suburb] is on P!!!! We test EVERY house for P!! It’s essential.”. At which point I pointed out that two 90-year-olds had lived there for 30 years and that it was not going to happen.

    My god, imagine how many times that bloody scenario has played out in the last few years.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Phil Twyford's press release.

    Sir Peter’s report found that remediation according to the NZS 8510: 2017 standard is appropriate only for identified former meth labs and properties where heavy meth use has been determined.

    Along with NZS 8510: 2017, it will contribute to any regulations that may be made under the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill (No 2), soon to have its second reading in the House.

    “I expect, pending Cabinet agreement, that there will be a public consultation document on meth regulations later this year,” Phil Twyford says.

    As the Drug Foundation has observed this morning, Sir Peter's report calls for a new meth screening test regime, set at much higher levels, properly based on risk.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Henry Cooke's report on Stuff:

    "There is absolutely no evidence in the medical literature of anyone being harmed from passive use, at any level," Gluckman said.

    "We can't find one case."

    Gluckman said testing and cleaning still made sense when there was suspicion that methamphetamine had been produced on a property, or used at extremely high levels - but this was more to do with reassurance.

    He said a "moral panic" around cleaning remediation had occurred only in New Zealand. If science had been involved earlier in the policy-making process this could have been avoided.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Yep.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2893 posts Report Reply

  • Mikaere Curtis,

    Good work, Russell, this is an important issue that really needed an injection of objectivity.

    What are the chances the media will be able to report accurate, science-based information during the run up to (next year's?) cannabis referendum ?

    Tamaki Makaurau • Since Nov 2006 • 525 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp,

    The first question journalists should be asking is who benefits / follow the money and variations of that. Of course they did not.

    Hopefully it will be quick for the messaging to get out there. I'm surprised that some enterprising persons haven't set up a business to literally launder banknotes.

    As Dr Kim mentioned banknotes are contaminated. A casual search on "contaminated currency" shows up some funny stories about what is present on banknotes. I'm hoping that NZ notes being made of different stock to the US ones might be better but EFTPOS never looked so good.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 358 posts Report Reply

  • Max Barwell,

    Kia ora,

    I have to wonder if this policy was used to evict people in Tāmaki to make way for the gentrification underway there.

    The Tāmaki Regeneration Company (Joint Govt and Council) gave a promise that state tenants displaced during the developments would be able to remain local and be rehoused.
    below is a quote from the CEO John Holyoake from 2016 so the number probably went higher:

    "There’s the scourge of “P” contamination. Holyoake confirmed 20 homes are empty in Tāmaki not because of imminent demolition but because they are poisoned by methamphetamine production or use"

    That would given them a nice easy way to get people out without the bad PR ala Niki Rauti and not honour that promise.

    Since May 2018 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    It’s remarkable how long the meth-testing industry kept up the pretence.

    MethSolutions’ Miles Stratford issued this deeply deceptive press statement only a few weeks ago – clumsily attacking the Drug Foundation (and clearly looking to take advantage over the Massey High School flap).

    These efforts have been led by Ross Bell of the NZ Drug Foundation. Bell has labelled the meth testing and decontamination industry a ‘scam’. Naturally, this line of thinking appeals to the economic interest of property owners (private landlords or HNZ) who are inconvenienced by meth residues and can find themselves footing some sizeable bills.

    It should be pointed out that Bell’s focus is on minimisation of harm to the people who choose to use drugs like methamphetamine. His focus is not on the people who own the property assets or those who later live in meth- affected houses, like the tenant featured in Stuff.

    Bell is involved with groups who have the ultimate goal of getting all drugs, including meth, decriminalised. Meth residues causing problems for independent property owners puts pressure on Bell’s constituency not to use and makes achievement of this goal less likely.

    Bell’s righteously indignant ‘scam’ claims are ‘validated’ by the ‘science’ of Dr. Nick Kim. Dr Kim’s opinion is not held by all scientists. While Dr. Kim may be happy with meth levels of 12.5μg/100cm2, most scientists around the world focus on a level of 1 – 1.5μg/100cm2. Some remain convinced that the level should be lower. Australia has a limit of 0.5μg/100cm2 for both use and manufacture of meth. At 1.5μg/100cm2 the level that is part of the Standard, has clear precedent and is well support by science, if not public sentiment.

    I feel immense comfort today that people like Miles Stratford won’t have a business for much longer.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    And here comes the new Housing NZ policy:

    Based on the findings in the CSA report from today we’re moving the level which triggers the need for decontamination activity - if a Housing NZ property tests between 1.5 µg/100 cm2 and 15 µg/100 cm2, decontamination is not triggered.

    We’ll continue to test where we suspect meth lab activity or very heavy meth use, and if a property tests higher than 15 µg/100 cm2 and a methamphetamine lab or very heavy use has been identified, we’ll decontaminate in accordance with the current Standards to a level of 1.5 µg/100 cm2.

    Spot on.

    And what this means:

    Using the CSA’s findings and recommendations will mean a greater number of state homes will be available to households in need because we will not be unnecessarily decontaminating at the levels we have been.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    The meth panic was never about science, or even drugs.

    It was used to feed a National government approved narrative of criminalising poverty, and provided a convenient fig leaf for the flogging off of the state housing stock to the private sector.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2198 posts Report Reply

  • jb, in reply to Hebe,

    The point of testing prior to a new tenancy is to define a benchmark (i.e. the property was not contaminated) to avoid any challenges to findings of contamination post tenancy. (Full disclosure: no involvement in the testing industry)

    a.small.town.in.germany • Since Jan 2007 • 86 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Looks like the local meth-testing industry has hired Australian firm Clout PR to try and save its ass.

    Here's Clout's brag page for its client MethScreen.

    And MethScreen's own risibly false risk information.

    Cynical and despicable.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Clarke,

    Personally, I think every Public Address reader should chip in so we can buy Sir Peter Gluckman this t-shirt.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 85 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I feel immense comfort today that people like Miles Stratford won’t have a business for much longer.

    Cynical and despicable.

    I don’t think I’ve seen such a mild mannered man as yourself wish financial ruin on anyone. These guys must be right bastards.

    BTW, I hear on RNZ that the government is going to have an investigation into Standards New Zealand (who developed the guidelines for Housing NZ) to discover why they are so much at variance with the findings of Sir Peter Gluckman. There will be a few shiny arse managers at MBIE sweating on that news, methinks.

    One might speculate that the investigation will find cronyism and corruption flourished in an MBIE gutted by funding cuts and encouraged to outsource it’s advice and guidelines to those friendly to the minister and aligned with the (then) governments philosophy, but that would just be idle speculation on my part, of course.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2198 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Bell, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I'm giving a talk in Australia later in June to my drug policy colleagues. I wonder what I should talk about :)

    Wellington, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 164 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Yay. Great work - and thank goodness. Moral panics have an underlying nastiness, but this was fueled by greed too. BS testing - and 'cleansing' have become 'standard' in many tenancy arrangements now. Hopefully that disappears overnight.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2078 posts Report Reply

  • Clarke,

    One might speculate that the investigation will find cronyism and corruption flourished in an MBIE gutted by funding cuts and encouraged to outsource it’s advice and guidelines to those friendly to the minister and aligned with the (then) governments philosophy, but that would just be idle speculation on my part, of course.

    I think the answer is much more likely to be in the entrenched risk aversion of the Wellington bureaucracy rather than in any nefarious scheme.

    Agencies are routinely punished by Ministers, the media and the public when they get things wrong - see also MPI on the subject of any kind of biosecurity event - and so they will always err on the side of the most conservative approach. I’m sure there was at least one meeting where someone suggested a more pragmatic and evidence-based approach to the standards, but someone will have piped up and said “yes, but what happens if a kid gets sick and we end up on the front page of the Dominion Post?!”

    Being on the front page of the Dom is roughly equivalent to being the subject of a Stalin-era show trial as far as most agency staffers are concerned.

    So the mis-application of the standard and the draconian results that followed would have been regarded as the lowest-risk option ... not for the tenants, not for the economy, and not for the country. But very definitely for the MBIE staffers sitting in the meeting.

    But just before we condemn these people as venal fools (spoiler alert: a small number of them are venal fools, although a much greater number are just people going to work every day to do their jobs), the real issue lies with the media, as Russell has pointed out. After all, if the chance of ending up on the front page of the Dom based on the danger of someone getting sick because they were downwind of a person whose mate had once known someone who might have smoked P was zero - because the journalists had had their WTF filters engaged - then it’s unlikely the standards would have been applied they way they were.

    This whole saga seems like an intersection between power, incompetence and bad faith, on behalf of the bureaucracy and the media alike.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 85 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    My god, imagine how many times that bloody scenario has played out in the last few years.

    Having bought a home-and-income in the last few years I can say it played out like that for me too. The building inspection required by the bank tried hard to upsell me to meth testing, which was really expensive, on the grounds that the house was part tenancy. The property managers I approached tried to push meth-testing as well. Several of the vendors of the houses we looked at made big issues of their in-house meth minders.

    The work you had done, and other journos too, gave me the resolve to ignore the shit out of these panic-pushers. I fixed moisture and heating issues instead, despite the earnest advice of several agents that it was money completely wasted, as the cost would never be recouped from tenants. They might be right about that, sadly, but at least I sleep better, and as for the meth use, it's really not my business. I'm impressed to see it called directly by the government, it's a really, really promising sign for evidence led policy making.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10559 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Lyall,

    Just had a quick check of the response on Facebook responses from a friend who works at one of the Math-testing companies.

    1.

    One of the people involved, Dr. Nick Kim loves to bring up the fact that is used in drugs such as Ritalin....so it "must" be safe....
    I did a little research and found this article.

    The article (in a blog for a drug-rehab centre) tell us how bad Ritalin really is.

    2.

    Why is research like this ignored when talking about the risk factors of living in a meth contaminated property

    Note the article is entitled:

    Exposure and Risk Associated with Clandestine Amphetamine-Type Stimulant Drug Laboratories.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 53 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Clarke,

    I think the answer is much more likely to be in the entrenched risk aversion of the Wellington bureaucracy rather than in any nefarious scheme.

    Agreed. I think it shows up the flaws in business-as-usual rather than any real conspiracy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Simon Lyall,

    The article (in a blog for a drug-rehab centre) tell us how bad Ritalin really is.

    Lol, remind me not to get advice from your friend: meth isn't "used in Ritalin", they're completely different chemicals which produce somewhat similar effects through quite different actions.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22584 posts Report Reply

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