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Changing times...Senior Constable Paul Hampton says there has been a shift in the past three years with the rise of meth use in South Canterbury. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

A new condition is sure to be named for pregnant mothers hooked on methamphetamine, the police family harm co-ordinator in South Canterbury, Senior Constable Paul Hampton, believes.

“We have a number of pregnant women here who I know or suspect are using meth. There’s research coming out of the United States showing how damaging it is for the unborn child.

“It used to be that we were worried about foetal alcohol syndrome; I think in time there will be a term for a meth-using mother.”

Mr Hampton said he could think of “double figure” numbers in which children were being raised by grandparents or other caregivers in South Canterbury after the mother was deemed not capable of caring for them due to a meth addiction.

“It’s often family members and grandparents who step in and say they will take responsibility for the children; not necessarily Oranga Tamariki.”

Mr Hampton said finding meth during a search of a person or home in Timaru and South Canterbury was once uncommon for police, but that had changed.

“‘In the last three years there’s been a shift. It used to be rare and exciting but now it’s what we expect.

“It’s linked to gangs and organised crime and it’s no surprise that we’re finding more and more firearms. It’s the same group of people doing both.”

Meth was once manufactured in labs that moved around the country but this also had changed.

Large importations of the drug were coming into the country and although significant seizures had been achieved by police and customs he said, “the price was still coming down so a lot more must be getting through. It’s a supply and demand thing”.

“People who supply in Timaru, Temuka and Geraldine will be people living in the community but the meth is likely to be coming from elsewhere.”

Mr Hampton said when he joined the police many years ago, among the major causes of family violence were alcohol and cannabis.

“We still get a lot of alcohol but meth is definitely the main drug, particularly in the under-40 age bracket.”

Those who were caught up with the drug found their lives spiralling downward, he said, often losing jobs and associating with people they would never have before.

Meth-addicted mothers prioritised the drug ahead of their own children.

For parents raising children he said the issue of drugs was something they worried about.

“You bring children up with good values and good support and hope for the best.

“I think in the current environment they [parents] should look for changes in behaviour and physical presentation and, if there are, it could be because of using meth.”

Mr Hampton said police were doing well with what resources they had to combat meth.

“We can always do with more. The Government has given an assurance of giving us 1800 more staff over three to five years and of those 750 were dedicated to organised crime.”

Wastewater in communities around the country, including Timaru, was tested for drugs every two months.

“We can work out what’s being used and it helps us target resources.”