Meth-affected families want change

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2014
Liz Campbell and David Collinge
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ

FIGHTING FOR CHANGE: William Campbellā€™s mother Liz with David Collinge, whose Pipe Down campaign seeks greater powers for family members of meth addicts to intervene and commit them.

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A dark "hell" of methamphetamine addiction and mental illness claimed William Campbell, but his family feels their hands were tied as they watched his life ebb away.

"He was a really happy, loving young man, from a loving professional family. There was nothing to give us any indication this hell was going to happen," mum Liz Campbell says.

She has shared her son's story in the hope of garnering political interest in the thorny issue of involuntary committal - supported by lobby group Pipe Down, which launched this week.

Campbell, who grew up in Paremata, Porirua, began using marijuana to calm his social anxiety. He found love, and was able to ditch the drug.

But once the relationship fizzled, he began experimenting with harder drugs.

"By the end of that year, the William we knew had gone," his mother says. "He was a different person. He was no longer particularly cognitively smart, he was paranoid, obsessive, depressed."

He became a Christian, but his piety grew "obsessive" and fed a dark drug-fuelled paranoia, his mother says.

Police called in mental health assessors - but Campbell did not meet the criteria for compulsory rehab. "He said to me, ‘I know what to say to those people' - he was very articulate.

"What we were seeing was a person who had become a monster.

"He was not someone we knew at all - and this is before the P."

The family offered private rehab, but their sense of helplessness grew when he would not go. "Every time we tried to get him to get help, he became more hostile."

Eventually Campbell moved out and found a partner who introduced him to methamphetamine. That was when he became psychotic, his mother says.

"We had ‘The helicopters are following me', and ‘People with guns are after me'."

When his meth supply dried up, he came home. But within weeks, he threatened to hurt his mother - the tipping point that got him committed.

"They saw he was a danger to himself, but also that he was psychotic and willing to attack me."

In hospital, he made one suicide attempt and told his parents that he would try again.

"We talked to him for a long time and we listened. He was happy, he was clear, he was there. He said ‘I've decided, I definitely will kill myself the first opportunity I have.'

"It was the first time we had been completely and utterly certain that he was going to do it."

He was due to be discharged the following week, so his anxious parents rang the hospital, giving warning. The next day, in August 2011, aged 26, he left on unaccompanied leave and ended his life. His mother told her story supported by Pipe Down's David Collinge, a Wellington advertising man who took out a full-page newspaper ad this week, in a call to arms for families of people suffering from the effects of methamphetamine.

Collinge said he was motivated to act from the experience of watching three families "ripped apart by this bloody awful drug".

He wants a law change to improve the involuntary committal process for people suffering from the effects of substance addiction.

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"I watched my friends desperately try to intervene - to build that fence at the top of the cliff to save these people from themselves.

"In all three instances it wasn't possible to do - literally impossible to build that fence.

"So they had to fall at the bottom where there is a hearse, or a police van, or an ambulance."

Seeking for help? People seeking help with addiction can visit methhelp.org.nz

- Sunday Star Times

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