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Police investigation: Man faces drug charges

A 68-year-old man has been charged with possession of cocaine and methamphetamine for supply as a result of an investigation into local fentanyl overdoses.

In July, 13 people overdosed after taking fentanyl they reportedly thought was cocaine.

A police spokesperson told the Times-Age that it recently completed a thorough investigation but that there was insufficient evidence to enable anyone to be charged in relation to the overdoses.

A police spokesperson said, however, that a man had been charged with possession of cocaine and methamphetamine for supply as a result of the investigation.

They said that he would reappear in the Masterton District Court in February.

It said he had 26.3 grams of cocaine.

“The investigation concluded that the substance consumed by some users was known by them to be fentanyl. “Other users believed it to be cocaine and that no further similar incidents have been identified since.”

Police said all overdose victims were spoken to about their drug use and offered support.

“If they consented to police forwarding their details to an appropriate support agency, then this was done.”

Media reported that police had confirmed that the fentanyl that caused overdoses was bought on the dark web by the dealer, but police were unable to confirm this to the Times-Age.

The dark web is a hidden collective of internet sites only accessible by a specialised web browser.

It is used for keeping internet activity anonymous and private, which can be helpful in both legal and illegal applications.

While some use it to evade government censorship, it has also been known to be used for illegal activity.

Police reportedly said about an ounce of the substance was imported to New Zealand through the dark web.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is scheduled in New Zealand as a Class B3 substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

National Drug Intelligence Bureau manager of intelligence fusion Julia Smith said organised crime groups were sourcing fentanyl precursor and pre-precursor chemicals from China to synthesise into fentanyl.

“However, due to low levels of illicit opioid use in New Zealand, it is assessed as a low risk that the domestic market is likely to change in short to medium term.”

Smith said the fentanyl environment in New Zealand remained stable and overall, fentanyl misuse was low, aside from the recent fentanyl overdose events in the Wairarapa and Manawatu regions.

She said there had only been two detections of fentanyl in wastewater since January 2021, but it could be attributed to legal use as a prescribed medication.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation said opioids were the cause of 75 deaths last year.

Smith said there had been only three seizures of fentanyl since last year.

She said four people had died of drug overdoses related to fentanyl in 2021.

“Prescription of community-dispensed fentanyl remains steady and is monitored due to the risk of diversion into the illicit market.”

Smith said, unlike the United States of America, New Zealand’s prescribing levels had not been high enough to enable widespread diversion into the illicit drug market.

“Overseas, high levels of prescribing, or the overprescribing of fentanyl, has been a gateway to opioid misuse, consequently increasing demand in the illicit market.”

She said Medsafe ensured New Zealand maintained best practice prescribing for fentanyl.

“This is vital to minimise diversion and the risk of expanding illicit demand through prescription drug abuse.”

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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