Annemarie is the magazines editor and regular columnist for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Drug 'epidemic' hits Bay

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Methamphetamine use is rising across the Bay with users including young people, women and professionals.

Experts report a P epidemic "resurgence" with more addicts asking for help.

Tauranga MP and Cabinet minister Simon Bridges said he was alarmed and feared it could result in more crime as increased demand fuelled supply.

The drug was not just being used by "stereotypical criminals".

"I'm hearing from police and lawyers about people you would think of as respectable using it ... the sheer number of professional and business men and women in the Bay taking meth is not something I had been aware of before - in some circles as common as having wines or beers at the weekend."

His comments come as a special Bay of Plenty Times Weekend report today features two local women who each tell their story of going to hell and back while addicted to P, and examines the rising scourge of methamphetamine use across the region.

Mr Bridges said there were people who believed they could control their use "but it is an incredibly addictive drug".

National Council for Addiction Treatment chairperson Vanessa Caldwell said meth use was on the rise in the provinces, with a widening cross section of users.

Two things were being seen nationally: a slow rise in the number of users and a significant rise in people experiencing problems, she said.

There were more people seeking help for P use problems given that over the past year a number of treatment facilities had reported methamphetamine - not alcohol - was now the primary substance of choice for most people seeking help.

This was the first time this was happening, she said.

It was difficult to measure accurately methamphetamine users in New Zealand. Not all might present for treatment.

For those who did seek help, until recently information about effectiveness of treatment had been only recorded by individual treatment providers, but this was set to change said Dr Caldwell.

"We do not currently have accurate national figures for this. The Ministry of Health introduced mandatory recording of this information in July 2015, however, so within the next six months to a year this information will be available."

More people in the Bay were also testing positive for P in the workplace.

"All the indicators are there that meth use is on a resurgence"
Chief executive of Drug Detection Agency Kirk Hardy

The Drug Detection Agency said workplace drug tests showed traces of methamphetamine had increased in three years. In the first half of 2014, 10.6 per cent of all tests the agency carried out found traces of methamphetamine, rising to 14.8 per cent in the first half of this year.

Chief executive Kirk Hardy said the increase indicated new users.

"All the indicators are there that meth use is on a resurgence - positive tests in the workplace and home, increase in violent crime, family violence, the number of people seeking treatment, and the amount of seizures at the border."

The number of people seeking help through the Bay of Plenty District Health Board in 2014 was 101. This increased to 123 in 2015 and the number for this year to the end of July was 63.

Clinical director mental health Sue Mackersey believed methamphetamine use was on the rise because it was becoming more available but it was hard to quantify how much of a problem the drug was in the community.

Johnny Dow, director of Higher Ground residential clinic in Auckland, said the problem was getting worse in the provinces.

"It's getting worse everywhere. I have seen it get worse year on year. Northland has a huge meth problem, so does Waikato and it's getting worse in Bay."

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Dow said money was needed for more beds for people outside of Auckland, particularly areas such as the Bay, where there are no residential services.

Salvation Army national director of addiction services Lieutenant Colonel Lynette Hutson said it was "alarming" there were currently three times as many Bay females presenting for treatment compared to males and meth was definitely "more prevalent out there".

Hutson said in the most recent financial year, 80 people had sought help in the region, compared with the 2014/15 financial year when 66 people sought help. Its services too were treating professionals, with "highly qualified professional people coming to us with significant addiction problems".

In the first half of 2016, police and Customs seized 640kg of meth - double the amount seized for 2015 (334.3kg).

Dale Kirk, a former drug squad detective, thought the region's meth problem was a concern, at epidemic levels and there should be more emphasis on the demand than the supply chain at the border.

"We are seeing a new level of meth use in New Zealand, with the increase in import activity ... when $448 million of meth washes up on a beach it is not hard to figure out there is demand for it - so it's the demand we need to tackle."

Kirk, based in Mount Maunganui was starting a charitable trust Project Meth, in which he would run workshops in high schools starting in the Bay.

"People are in denial about the extent of the problem," he said.

The Ports of Auckland and Tauranga would be among entry points to bring the product into New Zealand, as well as sea ports, airports, post, and more remote locations, according to the National Drug Intelligence Bureau.

Jamie Bamford, Customs Group Manager Intelligence, Investigations and Enforcement, said while few border seizures had been made in the Bay of Plenty, "we are aware that smugglers are routinely adjusting their tactics and targeting what they perceive are low risk areas.

"Customs is continually updating its information and targeting techniques to keep ahead of drug smugglers."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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