Meth house dangers debunked

I find it hard to understand how expensive meth house clean up practices were used for so long when science suggests most of the mayhem was not backed by science.

There has been questions asked about the over reaction to possible contamination of houses in much meth had been used (as opposed to manufactured), and the length of time it has taken to analyse the science.

The National Government made a big deal about science and data backed decisions, but really seem to have botched this one. They say they were working on a new standard, but that took too long.

In October 2016: 558 state houses left empty based on dodgy P testing

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett needs to explain whether the 558 state houses the Government has left vacant due to methamphetamine residue are in fact contaminated in light of revelations Housing NZ has messed up the testing procedures, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.

“In the middle of a housing crisis when families are living in cars it would be negligent of the Government to leave hundreds of homes empty if it turns out there is no residue that poses any risk to the health of tenants.

“Paula Bennett needs to front up. It is sheer arrogance for her to hide from the taxpayers who not only pay her salary but also coughed up the $22 million she has wasted against Ministry of Health advice.

“After months of warnings by scientists and now Ministry of Health officials, Housing NZ still haven’t owned up to their mistakes and acknowledged that they have wasted $22 million in taxpayer’s money.

“Housing NZ have evicted tenants on the basis of dodgy testing procedures that do not distinguish between methamphetamine contamination caused by state houses being used as P labs and meth consumption which leaves no dangerous residue in the houses.

“If those 558 houses are not contaminated, and do not pose a health risk to the tenants then there are hundreds of Kiwi families desperate for an affordable rental home that sure could use them,” says Phil Twyford.

Last December: Twyford slams ‘moral panic’ on meth testing state houses

Housing Minister Phil Twyford isn’t ruling out compensation for Housing New Zealand tenants judged to have been wrongly evicted because traces of methamphetamine were detected in their home.

He said the Government priority was to sort out a testing standard and set clear guidelines to give landlords in the private and public sector some certainty.

“There has been a moral panic around this whole issue that I think was a result of the vacuum in political leadership under the former government.”

He also said drug detection companies were partly to blame for the “moral panic”.

Twyford said about 900 state houses had been vacated in the midst of a housing crisis because of a meth contamination standard that could not adequately tell if a property posed a risk, or if there was an infinitesimally small residue that posed no risk at all.

He believed most of those houses would be found to be perfectly safe.

He had asked officials for advice on whether the current standard or threshold for contamination was set at the right level.

In December Twyford  commissioned the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Professor Sir Peter Gluckman to assess all the available scientific and medical literature about the risks of exposure to meth residue. A report was released this week.

Report into meth contaminated homes released

A new report into methamphetamine smoking residue on household surfaces has found there is no evidence third-hand exposure causes adverse health effects, Minister of Housing and Urban Development Phil Twyford says.

“In December 2017 I commissioned Sir Peter to assess all the available scientific and medical literature about the risks of exposure to meth residue,” Phil Twyford says.

“There has been a widely held perception that the presence of even low levels of meth residue in a house poses a health risk to occupants. As a result, remediation to eliminate contamination has been an extremely costly business for landlords and an upheaval for tenants being evicted at short notice.

“No one is underplaying the social damage caused by meth, but there should be a scientific basis for what are acceptable levels of meth in the current New Zealand context; and remediation of houses should be proportional to the established health risks.

“The report is a comprehensive, up-to-date and plain English understanding about the risks of meth exposure for people living in houses where meth was manufactured, and for those in which meth was smoked,” Phil Twyford says.

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.

The report can be found at:

Ross Bell of the New Zealand Drug Foundation writes: Meth myth was allowed to go on for too long

As we let the scale of the problem sink in, it’s useful to cast an eye back to understand how things got so out of hand, and why lacklustre efforts to rein in the industry came to nothing.

This whole sorry saga could have been cut off at the pass at many junctures. Guidelines for the remediation of properties used as a laboratory for the manufacture of methamphetamine were released by the Ministry of Health in 2010. They contain nothing whatsoever about the dangers of third-hand exposure in dwellings where methamphetamine has been smoked.

The burgeoning clean-up industry seized on the guidelines to promote its services and raised the spectre of widespread “contamination”. The ministry was silent on this misappropriation of the guidelines. Having not been put right, the industry stole a march.

As reports surfaced that Housing NZ tenants were being evicted after the presence of methamphetamine was detected in their rental homes, the agency stood its ground. Any illegal behaviour would not be tolerated. When asked about this, Bill English, Housing New Zealand Minister at the time, and Housing Minister Paula Bennett both endorsed the hard-line approach.

By early 2016 the dubious practices of testing companies and astronomical figures for remediation were being called into question. Horror stories abounded. In the face of public concern, Building Minister Nick Smith accepted the need for tighter rules for testing businesses. Standards NZ embarked on a review of existing guidelines. With a committee stacked with industry representatives and a limited remit, it was no surprise the resulting standards were barely different from the existing ones.

The decision by Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi to review the process is welcome.

But how did they get the science so wrong?

A number of independent scientists, and even the Fair Go team, made efforts to debunk the myths perpetuated by the industry. When scientists pushed back with facts at hand, they were portrayed merely as a competing voice.

The ministers at the time failed to give due weight to the science, and their decisions seemed to be clouded by the interests of industry. Calls for regulations fell on deaf ears. This happened at a time when the government proudly launched its own drug policy in 2015 founded on the principles of compassion, innovation and proportion.

As the dust settles on this, it’s impossible not to reflect on how things could have been very different if scientific rigour free from the vested interests of commercial operations had been injected much sooner. How much distress could have been avoided? And countless millions saved? From this point forward it’s vital that evidence guides the way we address complex drug-policy issues.

Successive governments have been guilty of ignoring science and facts on a range of drug issues, and have failed to keep up with international trends.

So Twyford deserves credit for ordering the report and debunking the ridiculous and expensive over-reaction meth house clean-ups.

The Labour led Government has been criticised for how many reports and inquiries and working groups they have set up, but this report on meth houses was justified, and has resulted in reasonably prompt remedial action.

Report on dealing with escalating prison numbers

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, released a report last week on the growing prison population.

Convicted prisoner numbers have been increasing, in lpart due to tougher sentencing, but the biggest rise recently is of remand prisoners.

The report (PDF) – Using evidence to build a better justice system: The challenge of rising prison costs

Executive Summary

  1. Crime, especially violent crime, hurts individuals and society. Both direct and indirect victims of crime may suffer untold consequences that can endure for years and can even affect next generations. Those who do not suffer personally may nonetheless acquire negative perceptions of people or places because of criminal activity. The net effect of such perceptions can change societal attitudes creating a more negative environment. This is a loss for everyone. These perceptions can be disproportionately magnified by advocacy groups, media and political agendas.
  2. Policy responses are often viewed in binary terms: tough or soft on crime. This simplistic duality has long had political resonance, but its impact on our prison system is a major concern. The New Zealand prison population is increasing and is one of the highest in the OECD at a time when crime rates are actually decreasing. This can only be explained by the systemic and cumulative impact of successive policy decisions over time, often in response to public demand and political positioning.
  3. Successive governments of different political orientations have supported a progressively retributive rather than a restorative approach to crime with unsupported claims that prisons can solve the problems of crime. As a result, the costs of prisons far exceed those justified by the need to protect the public. We keep imprisoning more people in response to dogma not data, responding to shifting policies and media panics, instead of evidence-based approaches to prevention, intervention, imprisonment and rehabilitation. This does not diminish the importance of incarceration for a subset of individuals so as to protect the public.
  4. The strong evidence base related to what fuels the prison ‘pipeline’ suggests that prisons are extremely expensive training grounds for further offending, building offenders’ criminal careers by teaching them criminal skills, damaging their employment, accommodation and family prospects, and compounding mental health and substance use issues. On release, even after a short
    period of imprisonment, for example on remand, offenders have been found to reintegrate poorly to the community. Furthermore, this does nothing to reassure victims that the risk of harm is being effectively managed by the justice system.
  5. It is now well understood that prisons act as recruitment centres for gangs (especially for young offenders) and underpin the illegal drug trade. Imprisonment leaves those incarcerated with high rates of undiagnosed and untreated alcohol/drug addictions and mental illness. They have a negative impact on the next generation, given that a high percentage of people in prison are parents.
    These issues disproportionately affect Māori.
  6. Other countries, such as Finland, have significantly reduced their incarceration rates without crime rates rising. There is strong scientific evidence for putting resources into crime prevention, early intervention (identifying and mitigating risk), and a smarter
    approach to rehabilitation and subsequent social inclusion for those already in the criminal-justice system – not for building
    more prisons.
  7. To assist in such an approach, there must be adequate investment in piloting and evaluating early intervention and prevention initiatives. With leadership and knowledge, we can fundamentally transform the justice system, reduce victimisation and recidivism and make prisons only a part of a much more proactive and effective systemic response to a complex problem.

Much of this stuff has been known for yonks, but there has been a reluctance to address the causes, with public and political pressure resulting in more and more money being shovelled in to longer and more incarceration.