In Polynesia, methamphetamine, called “ice” locally, has gradually imposed itself on the drug market despite its high cost. It also reveals the addiction problems on the territory, mainly due to social causes, and the insufficient nature of a repressive whole, according to a study by the French Observatory of drugs and addictive tendencies.
It is called “ice” in Polynesia. This methamphetamine, which falls into the category of substances like MDMA/ecstasy and amphetamines, is now the most widespread globally after cannabis and opioids, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). . Considered stimulating and euphoric, it comes in powder form, which can be swallowed (for example in tablets), inhaled or injected, but also smoked in the form of crystals in glass pipettes. It is this more potent crystalline form that is used in the Polynesian market, wreaking havoc among certain segments of the population.
Already present but marginal at the end of the 90s, the traffic developed in the archipelago from the 2000s, notes the study by the French Observatory of Drugs and Addictive Tendencies (OFDT, June 2022). Most of the ice sold in Polynesia comes from laboratories located in Mexico. Imports generally take place from the United States, thanks to air links with Los Angeles and to a lesser extent Hawaii, where many Polynesians have family or friendly networks. Routing takes several aspects: in luggage by plane or cruise ship, in corpore (drug ingested in condoms for example then evacuated on arrival), and finally by post in letters or parcels. A few locally made labs existed for a while but have all been dismantled.
Despite its very high price (on the street, a dose of 0.04 grams costs 10,000 CFP francs, that is to say 80 euros), this drug is enjoying increasing success on the Polynesian market. In a context marked by strong inequalities, the ice trade thus represents a significant economic resource.
French Observatory of Drugs and Addictive Tendencies
Many people engage in trafficking because of financial difficulties and to improve their material conditions. “In this regard, the high level of social inequality in Tahiti is undoubtedly a factor that explains the attraction of selling ice“underlines the OFDT report. This also justifies the very unprofessional nature of the traffic. The majority of those prosecuted are unemployed (45%). ) and workers (8%).Nevertheless, networks of structured traffickers are being set up more and more often, possibly associating the sale of ice with that of “paka” (cannabis), making it possible to garner tens of thousands of monthly euros.
At the level of methamphetamine consumption in Polynesia, the phenomenon is still very little documented on the epidemiological level, and the only available data relate to minors. “In 2009, 1.7% of young people in school (12-19 years old) said they had already taken ice or amphetamines. In 2016, this percentage doubled, since 3.3% of 13-17 year olds said they had already consumed ice“, reports the study. According to it, adolescents do not represent the age category most affected by consumption, other corroborating elements (interviews with consumers, legal data, toxicological examinations carried out at the request of the Parquet, etc.) rather suggesting a peak in consumption among people aged 25 to 35. In any case, the problem is worrying enough to challenge health professionals as well as political, police and judicial authorities.
Quantities of ice seized by law enforcement in Polynesia between 2010 and 2020
After years of invisibilization of the question of ice, the media coverage of the problem, the release of the word of the victims of addiction, the increase in seizures and “because ice ends up appearing as a disturbance to public order that can no longer be ignored“, the political and administrative elites have finally taken action. In 2021, the High Commission and the Presidency of the territory have drawn up an action plan entirely dedicated to “fight the scourge of ice“, in their own words.
Insufficient for the OFDT which concludes in its report: “This presentation of the phenomenon of ice as a scourge refers to a fundamentally repressive framework. This framing of the problem and the solutions associated with it conceal other essential dimensions for understanding and combating this phenomenon. First, the role of social inequalities, which are particularly strong in French Polynesia, is almost never taken into account. Moreover, ice is rarely considered in media and political discourse as a public health problem. Thus, social support and the offer of care remain the poor relations in the fight against drugs. However, only an ambitious social and health policy seems capable of providing a lasting response to the problems of addiction in French Polynesia.“