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Dad of Tauranga meth addict backs whānau support group idea

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“It breaks your heart. I think about him every day.”

That’s how a distraught father describes his feelings towards his adult son who is addicted to methamphetamine and living on the streets in Tauranga.

He understands it will take about $15,000 to get his son into a residential drug rehabilitation centre – and that many have long waiting lists.

The father, who did not want to be named to protect his family, said the impact of his son’s addiction was far-reaching.

He often threw the household into turmoil before his parents made the tough decision to kick him out. They gave him an ultimatum last year as his behaviour was affecting their other children and grandchild.

“It was not fair for them to deal with his emotional and mental suffering. His addiction destroyed the vibe in our home.

“He wasn’t the same boy.”

His son began meddling in P about four years ago and started to spiral. They noticed his personality change.

“He was always fun to be around and looked on the bright side of life. Now it is hard to imagine that comparison. He constantly lies and is withdrawn.

“He doesn’t work and when I saw him a few weeks ago he was high.”

Meth is a highly addictive drug that is most often smoked using a glass pipe. Photo / Mike Scott
Meth is a highly addictive drug that is most often smoked using a glass pipe. Photo / Mike Scott

The father rang some treatment centres a few years ago and learned it would cost about $15,000 for a three-month programme at a residential drug rehabilitation centre. He said that, even if the family sold something to raise money, the son could walk out of treatment at any time.

“Our son has been set up to fail and we tried endlessly to get help but there aren’t enough support systems.”

Evicting him had been traumatic. Not knowing if he was safe was distressing and watching him deteriorate was agonising.

“It’s not easy. I love my son.”

The family is backing a proposed new support group for families of addicts as well as continued calls for Tauranga to have a residential rehabilitation centre.

Methamphetamine whānau support group

Tommy Wilson, the former executive director and now community connector for Tē Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust, said it was seeking funding to set up a new group for whānau affected by loved ones’ P addiction.

Called Te Puna Whakaora, meaning “the spring of healing”, he hoped it would “triage” whānau who dealt with addiction consequences and work with other organisations to help them.

Tommy Wilson is former executive director and now community connector for Tē Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust. Photo / Carmen Hall
Tommy Wilson is former executive director and now community connector for Tē Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust. Photo / Carmen Hall

Wilson said he had been previously told $1 million a week was being spent on methamphetamine in Tauranga, which was a “tragedy”.

He had been free of drugs and alcohol for more than 18 years and could relate to those battling addiction. He said methamphetamine use needed to be addressed “while it is a health problem – before it becomes a criminal problem”.

Koro and nannies used like an ATM

Elders were still being “used like an ATM” by family members addicted to meth, Wilson said.

“Koros and nannies for all the right intentions have tried to rescue their mokopuna addicted to methamphetamine with their eftpos cards …

“Unfortunately, all that does is support their habit and delay the inevitable.”

Addiction was often swept under the carpet because of whakamā (shame) and Te Puna Whakaora would allow families to talk about their challenges and “begin the healing”.

He said there were other good initiatives in Tauranga catering to addicts but he was aware that some had waiting lists of up to three months and there was no local residential rehabilitation facility.

“We see this as the precursor to putting together a number of respite or residential rehabilitation retreats where family and those addicted can begin the process of sobriety.”

One person’s addiction affects 10 others

Mount Maunganui GP Dr Tony Farrell, who has a fellowship in addiction medicine, said one person’s addiction could affect up to 10 people around them.

“When people get addicted to a substance it is a health issue and it makes them do things that may be bad for their relationships. When you’ve lost that control it’s pretty hard to to stay on the straight and narrow.”

Mount Maunganui GP Tony Farrell. Photo / File
Mount Maunganui GP Tony Farrell. Photo / File

Farrell supported the Te Puna Whakaora initiative and said Tauranga needed residential rehabilitation services.

“They will take an enormous amount of financial, staff and organisation and we certainly should have one. All health services are stretched everywhere.”

Meth still a massive problem

Jared Savage has spent 15 years writing about the drug trade as an investigative reporter for the NZ Herald and is the author of the Gangland and Gangster’s Paradise books. In 2019 he was part of the team that made Fighting the Demon, a documentary exploring New Zealand’s methamphetamine crisis.

He told the Bay of Plenty Times that methamphetamine was still a massive problem in Tauranga and Rotorua, but especially in smaller rural Bay of Plenty towns – although cocaine was becoming more popular.

The price of methamphetamine meant organised crime figures and gangs were making substantial profits from feeding the demand in these vulnerable communities, Savage said. This also led to escalating violence and shootings.

Jared Savage, award-winning investigative reporter and author of the Gangland and Gangster’s Paradise books. Photo / Supplied
Jared Savage, award-winning investigative reporter and author of the Gangland and Gangster’s Paradise books. Photo / Supplied

While commercial suppliers were still getting long prison sentences – and having their assets seized – Savage said police and judges were showing greater leniency to defendants who could show their offending was driven by addiction.

“Low-level drug possession is being treated as a health issue, not a crime issue, so fewer people are being sent to prison, which nearly everyone agrees doesn’t help with rehabilitation. But there’s often nowhere else for people to go,” Savage said.

They would end up back in the same “toxic environment” and quickly go back to square one for their addiction.

“There are some very desperate people out there, so anything that can help in their recovery is to be supported.”

Workforce shortages hit addiction services

Health NZ co-director for addictions, Ian McKenzie, said it took a health approach to addressing harm from alcohol and other drugs, including methamphetamine.

Nationally there were more than 60 packages of care for social detox and residential treatment of methamphetamine harm, including a free residential rehabilitation programme in Rotorua.

He said Bay of Plenty Addictions Service did not have a waiting list.

“There is, however, significant demand for the service which, like the rest of the health sector, is currently experiencing workforce shortages.”

There were also non-governmental and iwi-led services catering to mild and moderate-to-severe addictions, McKenzie said.

Next month He Pou Oranga Whai Ora, a community mental health and addiction service launched in the Eastern Bay last year, is due to open a supported accommodation facility.

“Through partnerships with local stakeholders, He Pou Oranga Whaiora aims to deliver impactful interventions and foster holistic well-being,” it said. “With a strong cultural emphasis, the service endeavours to empower individuals in overcoming addiction and achieving sustainable recovery.”

Health NZ and its Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty were also asked about the lack of a residential drug rehabilitation facility in Tauranga.

Bay of Plenty meth use

According to data released this month, in the final quarter of 2023:

  • 1.1kg of methamphetamine was used in the region each week;
  • Per capita use was the third highest in New Zealand behind Waitato and Eastern police regions;
  • Per-capital use was up on the average for the four prior quarters;
  • Nationwide, the social harm cost of 13.6kg of meth use weekly was estimated at $15.1 million.

Drug addiction: Where to get help

  • The Level: A straight-up guide for people who use drugs.
  • High Alert: A network of health professionals and social services
  • Alcohol Drug Helpline: 0800 787 797 or text 8681
  • Meth helpline: 0800 METH HELP (0800 6384 4357)

Carmen Hall is a news director for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post, covering business and general news. She has been a Voyager Media Awards winner and a journalist for 25 years.

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