The use of methamphetamine is becoming more widespread in Oamaru, and the impact is being felt beyond individual users. Families and the wider community are being seriously affected. Oamaru Mail reporter Gus Patterson takes a closer look at the issue.
Kelly* was 18 years old when she first tried methamphetamine.
She was introduced to the class-A drug by a family member and admits she was not as “street smart” as she is now at the age of 28.
“Your first hit, people tell you what it’s going to be like – ‘you’re going to stay up, do things quicker than you would usually’,” she said.
She did not really feel the effects at first, so she tried it again “to get the hit everyone was saying”.
Then, the former Oamaru woman found it difficult to stop.
“I have an addictive personality.
“If I walk into a room with people it’s hard to say ‘no’ because it’s there.
“Especially in Oamaru, a small town. It’s everywhere.
“You have got to stay away from people like that because you are only as good as the people you are around – but that’s my family.”
Addiction to meth meant users would do “anything” for the next hit, Kelly said.
“It changed . . . my thought pattern, how I thought, how I did things.
“That turned into a lot of jail and offending.”
She started selling the drug to support her habit.
“I have to take responsibility for the part I played, me selling it to somebody. That could’ve made them not feed their kid that night. That could’ve made them beat up their partner – because I was the one that sold it to them.
“That [realisation] shocked me and upset me . . . if it wasn’t me selling it to them, it would have been someone else, but the fact it was me selling it . . . I didn’t want a part of that.”
At the time, she did not think about how her drug use affected her children.
“Meth just doesn’t make you think like that. It doesn’t make you think rationally at all.
“It was other people [who] were telling me . . . ‘we don’t think that that’s okay’.
“I have put my kids in a lot of situations, no doubt, in a lot of situations that were not good or healthy, but at that time I couldn’t see past the meth.
“If you can’t see it’s bad at that time, obviously the meth has overtaken you.”
Kelly was able to give up the drug with the help of her partner, who was also trying to change his lifestyle when they met.
“It wasn’t until he said to me, ‘pack up and leave Oamaru tomorrow, or you’ll be in jail’ – and I left.”
Two of Kelly’s children were taken from her because of her drug addiction, and the fear of losing her third keeps her from relapsing.
“I still have patches now when I think I would just love to have a puff and everything would be fine,” she said.
But she keeps clean because she is stronger and is more willing to ask for help.
“I’m doing good.”
Oamaru family lawyer Nicky Sinclair said she had seen an alarming increase in the number of family court cases in Oamaru involving methamphetamine over the past two years.
“What I’m really seeing is that meth is taking parents away from their children, really in a way I don’t think people can comprehend.
“We need to understand the seriousness of the problem and the impact it has on families, in particular, children.
“As a community we have a role and responsibility to support those parents and families.”
Methamphetamine not only impacted the user, but their wider family and community, Ms Sinclair said.
“We are seeing the extended family really at a loss of what to do.”
Family Works social worker Jodi Ryan is calling for a community-wide approach to address Oamaru’s methamphetamine problem.
“It’s not about putting the boot in, it is about helping people.
“We need resources to give people the help that [they] need.”
At present, the waiting time to see a drug counsellor at the Waitaki Community Alcohol Drug Service was about two months, a spokeswoman said.
“We have long wait lists here, but there are places they can go. The Salvation Army has a group on Thursdays,” she said.
The first step for people wanting to get clean was to see their general practioner, she said.
But more resources were needed for mental health services, she said.
“Usually, when people stop using they will crash, and then there is an intense craving and an inability to sleep.”
Safer Waitaki community development co-ordinator Helen Algar said the key to getting on top of Oamaru’s meth problem was promoting education and awareness to deter people from taking it in the first place.
There was a shortage of services available to support long-term recovery and Safer Waitaki was working on providing support, alongside investigating what supports could be put in place for families who were trying to support a family member addicted to meth, Mrs Algar said.
“[Families] are often the invisible victims in the dialogue around this hideous drug.
“It’s an incredibly hard nut to crack as it is such an extremely addictive substance and so widely available in New Zealand.”
Detective Sergeant Hannah Booth, of Oamaru, said the increase in methamphetamine use in Oamaru was in line with the rest of the country.
“The increase is largely due to the market being saturated, therefore the prices decrease and it becomes more accessible for people to buy,” Det Sgt Booth said.
“The increase in arrests for methamphetamine-related offending is the result of proactive policing by local staff, and as a result of dealing with those affected the most by methamphetamine and providing them with support.
“The flow-on effect from this is the apprehension of local suppliers.”
Police did not have any reports of methamphetamine being made in Oamaru and believed the drug was being brought in from outside the district, she said.
Det Sgt Booth said police were focused on reducing demand for the drug in Oamaru, rather than targeting the suppliers, she said.
“Methamphetamine is an incredibly dangerous drug and community agencies are seeing more and more people’s lives affected because of it.
“We encourage people who are having battles with methamphetamine, or if people are concerned for their loved ones affected by the drug, to seek help.”
*Name changed to protect identity.
Oamaru arrests for methamphetamine-related offences.–
2019 (Jan to June): 12
Source: NZ Police data released to the Oamaru Mail under the Official Information Act.
Where to go for help
★ Contact your GP
★ The Meth Help Counselling Service offers free, confidential phone support for anyone in New Zealand. Call 0800 METH HELP (0800 6384 4357)
★ Call 1737 for “need to talk?” free counselling service
★ The Meth Help website drughelp.org.nz/a-bit-about-drugs/meth