Police figures show meth problem in Bay of Plenty ‘getting worse’, former addict says

Grandparents are taking on their grandkids, bills aren’t being paid, and money is disappearing as meth’s grip on the Bay of Plenty holds.

A former addict says the drug abuse and fallout is getting worse and, according to a budget adviser, many of those hooked on meth are losing everything to fund their habits.

It comes off the back of confronting figures showing police in the Bay of Plenty are dealing with moremeth and amphetamine-related offences than any other region with more than 1kg consumed every week.

Hundreds more are convicted of crimes related specifically to the drug, and those who have seen the harm first-hand say it’s not just those who use it that can be crippled by it.

The latest data from police shows there have been 60 proceedings this year, the most in the country.

A proceeding is each instant police deal with an offence, and it can be the same person on multiple occasions.

Last year there were 301 proceedings across the Bay which added to the total of 1518 since 2014.

In 2020, according to data from the Ministry of Justice, 196 people were convicted of meth offences in the Bay of Plenty, and 146 in the Waiariki area. These included Waihī, Thames, Taupō and Taumarunui.

Findings from the police wastewater drug testing programme also reveal Bay of Plenty had one of the worst recorded methamphetamine use rates per capita, with about 720mg used a day. This was behind the East Coast region’s 780mg, and Northland’s 800mg.

The average daily drug use was per 1000 people in each police district from July to September last year.

The scheme tests for meth, ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine, fentanyl and heroin in what is, essentially, a national urine test.

Weekly, 1.15kg of meth is consumed in the region. It remains the most commonly detected illicit drug nationwide, with 12.6kg used each week.

Wastewater samples were collected from sites labelled Tauranga beach, Tauranga city, Whakatāne, Rotorua, Tokoroa, Ōpōtiki, Taupō, and Kawerau. Meth was the most prevalent drug from each site.

Kawerau and Ōpōtiki were the worst in the country with 95 per cent prevalence.

Rotorua and Tokoroa were the third-worst in the country with an 85 per cent positive test for the substance.

Meth use stayed the same in Tauranga city with 60 per cent prevalence and increased in Tauranga beach from 57 to 61 per cent.

Former addict of 18 years, Pauline Tai said “nothing’s changing out there”.

Instead, Tai thought it was getting worse.

Ōpōtiki was her home town and what she sees there is reflected in the numbers.

“It’s really mamae [painful] for me to see … it’s getting worse.”

People were driving around with guns and firing them, violence was worse, reckless driving was more frequent – all things she attributed to meth.

As a former user and seller, she said meth was more than just a high.

Stealing, lying, conniving and manipulation were attributes she said flourished in the depths of addiction, which she was no stranger to.

“Not even just with my family, it’s with people in the community,” she said.

“I saw people who hadn’t even tried it and I’d sell the product … I’d get them hooked so every week I’d have someone who wanted to get it, so I could get my fix.”

She went to jail for two years in 2006 and again in 2018; the first time for selling meth, and the second for conspiracy.

Since getting clean after her last stint, she and three others began work to support the community out of their addictions, through STOP Mana Enhancing and Whare Rauora Healing from Meth.

More people indirectly affected by meth were reaching out for help, and the fortnightly Thursday groups at Apumoana Marae was gaining popularity.

She gets daily phone calls from parents who think their child is on meth, and many blamed themselves.

She helped them spot warning signs; like staying up late, constant cleaning even if there’s no mess, always agitated, upset, angry, and constant arguing or violence in relationships.

When addicts are angry, Tai said it’s because “they’re pissed off with the world because they haven’t got any way of getting meth”.

“Everything can be all good and then, boom, everyone’s an asshole.”

Rent isn’t paid, there’s no food, and the power gets cut, she said.

“You’ll do anything for a hit.”

Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Shirley McCombe said they “often” saw whānau raising their grandchildren because the parents couldn’t as a result of addiction.

“Often when we look at bank accounts we see large sums drawn out in cash or we can see that they should be able to meet their costs but never seem to have enough money – and can’t explain where it has gone.”

She said it was an expensive, highly addictive drug that became “more important than anything else”.

“When people are desperate, they put themselves in dangerous situations in order to get the funds they need,” she said.

“People lose their health, jobs, custody of their children, homes, relationship, they sell their possessions, and sometimes the possessions of others.

“Meth destroys the lives of users, their whānau and communities.”

Mount Maunganui’s Dr Tony Farrell said high blood pressure, heart failure, high lung pressures, lung aneurysms, and strokes were some examples of the effects of the drug.

Farrell is one of a handful of GPs in the country who specialise in treating addiction.

Meth also caused psychosis, insomnia, depression, aggression, and significant problems with teeth. In severe cases, it can cause renal failure.

The drug destroyed the endings of dopamine-containing nerve cells causing long-term issues in working memory, attention, and handling emotion.

Police Detective Senior Sergeant John Wilson said meth is linked to violence, theft, family harm, and major health issues.

No one’s safe, he said, as it ripples through users, families, friends, and communities.

In the Bay of Plenty, there’s a dedicated Organised Crime Squad in each of the four police areas, a District Organised Crime Squad, and a team of the National Organised Crime Group based in Tauranga.

Wilson said there’s a focus on investigating, disrupting, and dismantling drug networks in New Zealand with the ultimate goal to reduce social harm in communities.

Police will continue using their discretion in a way that is consistent with the Prevention First model to reduce harm, provide support to those who need it.

Police also work with families affected by meth, and give information and advice to the community, around the “scourge” that is methamphetamine, he said.

Need help?

Anyone affected by drug addiction can seek help through the Alcohol and Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or free text 8681.

STOP Mana Enhancing and Whare Rauora Healing from Meth hold groups around the region: in Rotorua, Taneatua, Waikaremoana, Te Teko, Ōpōtiki and Whakatane.

Group for people indirectly affected by meth meets fortnightly on Thursdays at Apumoana Marae.

Information can be found on their Facebook pages.

Anyone with information about meth, suspicious financial activities, or the location of proceeds of crime should call police on 105, or anonymously on Crimestoppers: 0800 555 111.

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