Methamphetamine has fast become the most insidious drug affecting families and whanau in the Clutha district, officials say.
Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan described the “methamphetamine picture” that has rapidly evolved in the South Island over the past three years as horrific.
“Suicides have doubled since 2015. It’s harder to source marijuana than meth, and burglaries have spiked,” he said.
The Salvation Army Bridge programme for alcohol and drug addictions is facing increased demand from people with meth habits.
Programme director Major Peter Macdonald said the waiting list for the programme’s 10-bed residential unit in Dunedin had jumped from one month to two.
The nine-week programme offers alcohol and drug support across the lower South Island.
“Alcohol is still our number one addiction but meth is now right beside it,” Maj Macdonald said.
“Our beds are full every week.”
Support service workers warn one hit of meth can put casual drug users on a slippery slope to addiction, crime and ultimately devastation of the lives of loved ones.
Maj Macdonald said trust was the first casualty in the war against meth addiction.
“The family unit is the biggest loser when methamphetamine enters their lives,” he said.
“At present, pretty much everyone presenting here for our treatment programmes has meth-related issues.
“We focus our care on individuals and also on their family and whanau, as we understand that they are directly affected by users of meth.
“It is not unusual to have a family bring us their loved one for help.”
Maj Macdonald said the families’ requests were simple: “Give us a nine-week break from the mayhem.”
“The mayhem is the continual lies, the loss of trust that comes from not knowing how their loved ones are supporting their daily habit.
“For the children the loss is even harder as they don’t know if dad or mum, or even both, are happy on a high or mad and bad when coming down.
“The massive mood swings, the violence, the uncertainty of whether there will be food on the table tonight, or will their door be kicked in again by loan sharks working for the gangs, all impacts on the children.”
He said addicts would always try to manage their addiction but eventually realised they had lost everything.
“It’s also the borrowing from everyone else. I need this to pay for this and that, when it all really goes straight on to drugs, depriving the family of everything.”
Maj Macdonald said there were two things to know about the meth users.
“They call it ‘chasing the bag’.
“Chasing the bag is the first hit they get; the second hit is experienced when getting the substance and using it.
“The chasing is as big a rush as the using is. How do they get it without getting caught? Then how do they use it without also getting caught?”
Maj Macdonald said many meth users were dealing to pay for their $1000-a-day habit.
“You have to think about the pressure on the family with all that going on, owing money to dealers and loan sharks using standover tactics, all saying give us the money now, coming into the home and taking everything of value to pay the debt.”
“It is horrific what these young children see. Often, they have to step up and assume adult roles in the family that they shouldn’t have to,” Maj Macdonald said.
Support services were reporting that the second generation of substance users were starting to come into programmes.
“Their mums and dads were here five or six years ago and now we see their sons and daughters coming along, too,” he said.
“It is very scary. These are generational users. They grew up with it and now they are the users.”