Understanding regional illicit drug harm – a data driven approach

Mrs Marisa Cliff1

1New Zealand Police – National Drug Intelligence Bureau, Wellington, New Zealand


This project aims to provide New Zealand Police with a data-driven method to inform a targeted approach to reducing harm caused by illicit drugs.

Multiple datasets can be used as indicators of illicit drug harm, such as coronial services drug related mortality data. However, taken individually these data sets do not provide a comprehensive understanding of the illicit drug landscape. Additionally, most methods used to understand illicit drug harm do not consider harm relative to the scale of the population. Large cities often record the most illicit drug related harm by volume, but smaller towns where a larger proportion of the population may be affected, have the potential to feel the impact more widely.

By combining and weighting data from several illicit drug related indicators and assessing the scale in proportion to population, this methodology accounts for population size, provides a clear view of illicit drug harm and provides a comparison tool for relative harm across Police Areas.

For this project, illicit drug harm is measured by indicators of prevalence and acute harm resulting from illicit drug use. These indicators include data from drug related offences, Police drug seizures, wastewater testing, illicit drug related hospitalisations and illicit drug related deaths.

A dashboard application has been created using ArcGIS Pro. This provides a platform for interpreting results and illustrating illicit drug harm across Police Areas. This application also provides a base layer to overlay further data, which could include the locations of drug harm reduction initiatives already in place.


Marisa is a Senior Intelligence Analyst in the National Drug Intelligence Bureau (NDIB), with three years’ experience in the field of intelligence. Prior to beginning her career in intelligence Marisa spent 13 years in forensic sciences as both a forensic biologist and a forensic document examiner.

Marisa’s role within the NDIB is to add value to the wastewater testing program by providing in depth analysis of the wastewater data and other relevant indicators of illicit drug harm. Marisa’s aim is to provide enhanced intelligence enabling the implementation of effective strategies to reduce harm caused by drugs in New Zealand.