This week The Courier begins exploring the methamphetamine – or P – problem in South Canterbury. We begin today with stories from senior reporter Chris Tobin, who spoke to a local addictions counsellor and sat in on a group session of recovering addicts.
South Canterbury people are burying their heads in the sand over the meth problem in their midst – a situation exemplified in the local body elections, Timaru addictions caseworker Glenn Smith says.
“We’ve had people batting for council and I didn’t see one mention of social issues in South Canterbury . . .
“There’s no identifiable community leadership addressing it. No-one talks of it in the press.
“In South Canterbury and Timaru the issue is here big-time and there needs to be an effort to make a stand against it.
“The public need to be aware it’s affecting the wellbeing of our community and we have to deal with it together.”
He said local people had lost their businesses as a result of their addiction to the drug.
Also addicts had come to South Canterbury from the North Island hoping to get away from the meth scourge affecting their communities and had found the problem was worse here.
Mr Smith said meth had been prevalent in the region for the past three years but its presence had increased this year.
As for those who were addicted, many did not want to get off the drug and when they did, sometimes it would not last.
“There’s a range of ages and backgrounds; there’s professional people. The majority of them are in strugglers’ gully.
“The recovery rates are not high because of the nature of the beast.”
He said those addicted and their families needed more assistance.
“I was in the police for 37 years and I’ve been doing this sort of work for 32 years.
“I know what’s going on. A drug that separates a mother from her children has got to be at the extreme level.
“Babies are being born in our community and taken straight into care.”
One woman he had counselled who had been on meth went two weeks without sleep.
Trying to communicate with people when they were on meth was like “talking to a brick wall”.
“They’ve got to find their own turning point. There has been success when they realise the drugs affect their brains.
“When they see the effects on the brain, they actually get it – they realise it’s not a moral failure; it’s a chemistry thing and they need help. After a couple of weeks off meth most just sleep.”
“Alcohol withdrawal can kill, not meth. Then you can talk to them. They can absorb information without the brain becoming overwrought needing to use again.
“But they have to make the mental connection and be with people in recovery where it’s non-judgemental, and people are not being drilled or shown up.
“That is the best way for recovery.”
He said the families of addicts were also affected by the problem.
“I know of at least 10 sets of grandparents who are looking after their grandchildren because of this.
“The pain of parents and grandparents and friends of those people is pretty horrendous.”
Caring for their grandchildren strained grandparents financially, he said.
“They struggle with their energy as well and with the confusion of how their lovely little girl went down that path.”
In South Canterbury, a lot of the meth dealers knew one another, and not many were getting rich.
For someone he counselled in Timaru they could leave his office and “score” within five minutes at four or five different places.
A lot of crime related to meth went unreported in the region.
“I speak to addicts who tell me it’s underground. There’s violent crimes that are kept in-house with dealers collecting debts.
“If you talk to the police they will give statistics and say it’s not a problem; they will say they’ve made X number of arrests.
“I could fill a book with other statistics.”
Gangs were also involved.
“The gangs are only a conduit for the big boys. You have unemployed sitting around. They’re used as salesmen; they’re just a pawn in the supply.
“I would say a large percentage of those using meth are also dealers. To some degree they supply to make it cheaper [for themselves].”
Mid and South Canterbury area commander police Inspector Dave Gaskin says the use of methamphetamine is an issue that cannot be resolved in isolation and a community-wide approach is required.
“We’re concerned about the use of methamphetamine in South Canterbury and crimes that resulted from addiction, as well as the social harm and deprivation in vulnerable communities.
“We continue to target those who supply drugs to our community, but equally important is to ensure that those selling methamphetamine aren’t able to build and enjoy the profits of crime on the back of the misery of the addictions of others.”
The drug was highly addictive and that was driving people to offend. People affected by meth can seek help through the Alcohol and Drug Helpline on 0800 787-797, or free text 1737 to speak with a trained counsellor.
Anyone with information about the sale and supply of illegal substances can contact local police or phone Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
New Zealand Police Association president Chris Cahill says 93% of police officer members consider methamphetamine to be the most significant threat to law and order.
“That is followed closely by organised crime at 86%,” he said in the latest issue of Police News. Large overseas organised crime syndicates were establishing bases in New Zealand to supply local organised crime groups at great profit or to receive and on-supply enormous shipments to other destinations, he said.
Nearly 1500kg of meth had been uncovered over the past year and cocaine was being found in increased amounts.
“These hauls would have fetched hundreds of millions of dollars on the street, and caused unimaginable social harm in big cities through to small rural communities.”