Coronavirus will turn the market for illegal drugs upside down, with a spike in price and an increase in meth manufactured in New Zealand, experts predict.
Police are also preparing for a surge in burglaries of commercial properties, pharmacies, liquor stores and schools.
As money and drug supply dries up, thieves will target goods that are easily exchanged for cash, like food and alcohol.
An increase in dealing in supermarket car parks and in day light hours is expected, with criminals turning to bicycles to blend in with those exercising.
Sources have told Stuff that patrols have increased around essential services like chemists, supermarkets and service stations to ensure employees are safe and there’s no disorder.
With borders closed, the supply and distribution of drugs will be disrupted.
Drug mules won’t be able to take flights, and a downturn in world trade on the foot of Covid-19 may result in less container traffic. But although that may push up prices – gangs will still find means to deliver.
Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry said there would always be a demand for illicit drugs in New Zealand, but Covid-19-related border restrictions meant there would be a “steadying of the market while supply is constrained”.
Fewer passengers acting as mules and the stalling of airmail and fast freight in some parts of the world will make it difficult for suppliers to turn around drug orders quickly, he said.
But Berry said he’d received information this week that authorities in South America were still catching couriers or mules heading to Europe with cocaine.
Cartels or other gangs could use long term planning by hiding drugs on container ships bound for New Zealand, or dropping them off the coast and collecting them using recreational boats.
Since the Government banned the importation of precursor ingredients for meth, sourced in China, in 2009 domestic production dropped.
Police and Customs are expecting that to ramp up again, with more clandestine P-labs springing up.
And that’s likely to see meth cooks trying to source precursor ingredients locally.
Detective Senior Sergeant Damon Wells said there was a drop in residential burglaries across Christchurch since Covid-19 restrictions on movement came into force and more people were staying at home.
Commercial burglaries remained at normal levels, however police were aware places like liquor stores and schools could be targeted.
After dark, there was a focus on stopping people in cars or on bikes to ensure they weren’t up to no good, Wells said.
Police sources have told Stuff they expect thefts to pick up by the end of next week, as stashes of drugs and hard liquor begin to run low.
But officers also anticipate it will be easier to intercept dealers and other crooks as they’ll be more conspicuous on empty streets.
Jarrod Gilbert, Director of Criminal Justice at the University of Canterbury, said: “Desperate people become incredibly innovative. In industrial areas where businesses have closed down, that’s where you will find break-ins will invariably increase.
“Chemists need to be incredibly cautious about the risks of being burgled. There is a high likelihood that could begin to occur.”
The Pharmaceutical Society are alive to the threat, emailing members this week: “The security concerns of the community pharmacy sector have been raised with the Police Major Operations Centre and the Police Intelligence Section.”
They reminded owners to call 111, not 105 if they need assistance. “If they observe suspicious behaviour such as people loitering around their premises then they should contact police immediately as this is a breach of the national emergency criteria.”
There are some positives, Gilbert said. “There is going to be a massive under-supply, which means the price will increase. But it could also be that during this time people who do have drug problems use isolation positively and look to become drug free and clean their lives up.”
But he is worried addicts will shift to alcohol as a substitute, which could exacerbate other concerns, like family violence. “Despite being legal, alcohol has the greatest influence on crime than any other drug,” he said.
Ross Bell of the Drugs Foundation said supplies had already run short.
“We are hearing people are finding it harder to access what they would usually use.
“The worry that we, and the Drug Intelligence Bureau, is that if people can’t get what they are used to, what else are they going to get?
“The police are keeping an active watch on the drug market to see if people are going to shift to more harmful substances. “
That could lead to a rise in synthetics, he said.
“One thing we are anticipating is that there will be an increase in prescription drug misuse.
“And there is a worry we have around stockpiling – people may not use it in the quantities they are used to. They may use more than would usually use.”
Bell was also worried about the risks for those who go ‘cold turkey’ from opiate based drugs and alcohol.
“Sometimes there are medical risks around withdrawing. Stopping immediately will be problematic… in some cases people will need proper medical care and supervision to detox.
“The key advice is if people start to experience medical complications from their withdrawal, then they are going to have to call 111.”
He also recommended the Living Sober website, an online community of about 10,000 people.
“Most treatment agencies are shifting to video counselling, that might take a week or so to get up and running,” he said.
Needle Exchanges are classified as an essential service, but are operating at reduced hours.
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