Meth floods into NZ, addicts swamping drug rehab facilities

People who smoke methamphetamine can develop anxiety, psychosis and depression.

People who smoke methamphetamine can develop anxiety, psychosis and depression.

Meth is closing in on alcohol as the nation's most addictive substance. 

Everyone from teenagers to 60-year-old middle-class white men are using it, Hamilton Alcohol and Drug Community Support Trust director Stephen King said. 

"The biggest group we are seeing is children of financially successful families."

Northland Police in June 2016 seized 448kg of meth worth about $448 million in street value.
NZ Police / Supplied

Northland Police in June 2016 seized 448kg of meth worth about $448 million in street value.

King is currently working with seven wealthy Hamilton families who have members struggling with methamphetamine addiction. 

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The reformed drug addict who's been clean for 24 years said methamphetamine is now easier to get than cannabis.

"There is a rise and it's right across the board. There are 700,000 people in New Zealand with addiction-related problems.

"The meth dealer is targeting families with money in Hamilton and that's no different to anywhere else, ranging in age from 19 to 42."

And usage is so rampant that Waikato District Health Board workers say it has endangered the region's methadone programme and pushed rehab facilities to maximum capacity.

Information from police shows that people calling the Alcohol Drug Helpline for help for meth problems are now second only to those seeking help for alcohol addiction.

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"It's everywhere," King said. "You can have a meth habit on $200 a week or on $2000 a day and more - it's tailored to the amount of money you have."

King, who runs a DHB-funded live-in support house for addicts in Hamilton, said methamphetamine has flooded the New Zealand market in the past two years. He believes it is being imported ready to use from China.

National Clan (short for clandestine) Lab boss Senior Sergeant John Brunton recently told the Police News that meth use is escalating.

Data collected from communities shows fewer people are using cannabis and alcohol and more are using meth.

Those being admitted to hospital due to meth has risen every year since 2012 - jumping 51 per cent between 2014 and 2015.

"Most drug- and alcohol-addiction services are full to capacity and this has happened in the last two years as availability has increased," King said.

"Facilities are holding their own at the moment but we need to prepare for the future - we are going to need residential facilities as there is an increasing demand."

Waikato District Health Board clinical director of addiction services Tejpal Singh said a large number of the 700 to 800 patients in the care of addiction services through the Waikato were on meth.

"Many have opioid addiction, alcohol addiction, and we are seeing more and more come through with plain methamphetamine addiction as well. More people are using and this is only the tip of the iceberg."

Patients on the opioid abuse programme, where patients are prescribed methadone to stop them from buying and injected opioids on the street, had turned to meth. 

"It is not just people using meth by itself, but so many people stable on the opioid programme have become unstable by using meth."

It was putting the programme at risk, he said.

Unlike such drugs as heroin, methamphetamine is a psychological, not physiological, addiction, Singh said.

One hit of meth could release a level of dopamine in the brain at a rate three times that of having sex.

"It is a pleasure chemical - when you eat food, listen to music, have sex, use alcohol or cocaine - the amount of dopamine is about 300 a unit. With methamphetamine, the amount of dopamine released is about 1000 units."

"The brain learns that methamphetamine is better than food, better than sex, music, better than anything else the brain has seen.

"But ultimately, you pay the price."

Meth users tended to crash and burn, he said. Using methamphetamine can lead to anxiety, depression, weight loss and psychosis.

Singh said 95 per cent of the time, women using meth work in the sex industry to fund their drug habit.

Other addicted teenage girls had fallen into the hands of gangs. 

"We have seen recently where teenagers - girls that are 18 to 22 years old - that have become addicted to methamphetamine. The gangs exploit them by having sex with them, and then they become pregnant and they are using methamphetamine when they are pregnant and that can lead to damage to the fetus. They don't even know who is the father and it is very difficult to keep them in treatment."

This was happening prominently in Hamilton and the northern and southern Waikato, he said.

Detective Superintendent Tim Anderson said police are working to reduce the demand of methamphetamine by identifying clients during drug investigations and working with agencies to provide prevention advice and local support services.

"As we know, illicit drugs cause significant harm, not only for the person using it, but for their families, friends and communities, and it is also a driver of other crimes, including violent crime and dishonesty crime.

"We know gangs and organised crime are strongly linked to the importation and distribution of methamphetamine. Users are often victims of calculated, profit-motivated organised criminals, and so police resources are targeted toward the suppliers, importers and manufacturers.

"We need to ensure there is adequate support for those who are identified as drug abusers, to help them manage their addictions

Where to get help:

Alcohol and Drug Association NZ -
Methamphetamine -
Gambling -
Kaupapa Maori Services, Wellington -
Rangatahi Alcohol and Drug Treatment -
Salvation Army -
Care New Zealand -

 - Stuff


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