College of Health researchers are launching a new study on alcohol and drug use throughout the country, including measuring levels of drug use in wastewater.
In recent months, community and drug treatment workers have reported increasing use of methamphetamine and synthetic cannabinoids, particularly in smaller cities and towns. Many of these communities already have high social deprivation and poor access to health services.
However, there is currently no research on the extent of unmet demand for health services for alcohol and drug problems in these and many other communities to support the case for improved services. Social stigma attached to methamphetamine, and ignorance about the contents of many new synthetic drugs means users are often reluctant or unable to accurately self-report drug habits in traditional face-to-face surveys.
The research team will use a range of innovative approaches, as well as conducting a national online survey to get a better understanding of what drugs are out there, and to identify gaps in health services.
Associate Professor Chris Wilkins, leader of the drug research team at Massey’s SHORE and Whāriki Research Centre, is leading the study, which began on the weekend.
“Wastewater-based epidemiology is a new method which can provide objective measures of alcohol and drug consumption from drug metabolites found in pooled sewage. The sampling is done at the inlet of a sewage treatment plant, so it covers the entire community and guarantees no individual or household can be identified. A national programme of wastewater-based epidemiology was recently completed in Australia and similar studies have been conducted in Europe and Asia,” Dr Wilkins says.
“We will also conduct a national online survey open to all New Zealanders to obtain a better understanding of recent drug trends and to identify gaps in health services, and barriers to finding help in different communities throughout the country,” he says.
The online alcohol and drug survey can be completed over the phone on 0800 554 101; or face-to-face with an interviewer on request, by texting the word “research” to 0800 554 101.
The survey takes 8-10 minutes to complete. No names or contact details are required and everything said is strictly confidential. The findings will inform improved access to health services for alcohol and drug users and innovative approaches to delivering services
The New Zealand alcohol and drugs study will run until February 2018.