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

The Big Read: Shocking stories behind Bay of Plenty's P scourge

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Note: Picture and video is of Haydee Richard.

Lisa's story

Two days before Christmas, Lisa lost her baby daughter.

She lost herself 18 months before in a glass pipe of crystal meth passed to her by an older man, "from a very respectable profession".

"It became a huge problem. It hooked me quickly. I chased it every day. My entire life tumbled down in 18 months."

Lisa (name changed to protect privacy) smoked up to a gram a day. She kept the cost down by selling meth to friends and selling her body working as a prostitute from home while her daughter was at daycare. Men would come from 10am to 2pm.

"I didn't think it was wrong. I just wanted more."

Her clothes hung off her skeletal size six frame. She was 49kg. Her body was shrunken but her mind raced. She rarely ate. Her hair was different colours -- she would dye it herself at 2am. She didn't sleep. She would text friends at odd hours. She was so paranoid she couldn't even go out to put the rubbish on the road. She picked at her face. Once she tried to slice it open with a razor.

She would hallucinate, hear voices or see people that weren't there. Once she rang the police thinking there were prowlers in her yard. When the police knocked at her door, convinced it was the prowlers, she nearly opened the door with a loaded firearm.

When her parents had taken her daughter for a break to the South Island, Lisa stole their savings. She spent it on meth.

Arriving back at Christmas, Lisa's parents kicked Lisa out of their Tauranga home, filed a protection order against her, and kept Lisa's 2-year-old child, their granddaughter.

That night, as Lisa drove alone in the dark, with no money, homeless, carrying just her clothes, she had a moment of clarity, realising she had to get clean.

"I loved my daughter more than anything in the world. Without her, my entire life was destroyed. I told myself I would get off the meth and get her back."

But first she went round to see her friend. He was a P cook.

Haydee Richards' story

Haydee Richards spent her 40th birthday in jail.
Haydee Richards spent her 40th birthday in jail.

Haydee Richards spent her 40th birthday in jail. A cake baked by cellmates at Wiri prison in South Auckland wasn't exactly the party she had planned at her waterfront home in Tauranga. She received two letters, one from each of her children, then 21 and 17.

"My daughter's letter was pages long. She told me how I had affected her childhood, her life. The letter from my son was short. It didn't say much. But it was covered in teardrops ... it broke my heart."

Richards had discovered speed 12 years earlier in Tauranga when her daughter was just 11 and son 7. In just a few months she moved on to crystal meth and thought it was "awesome".

Before that she had struggled managing everything, but now she felt like she could cope.

"I was in control, I thought I am on to it. Actually I thought I was amazing."

Her house was "immaculate". She stayed up all night cleaning. Everything was "perfectly organised" for her children.

"Lunches, rosters, bring-a-plates ... I had everything under control."

At just 27, she morphed from a solo mum who had left school at 15 feeling like "she would never amount to much", who would drink top-shelf spirits to boost confidence, who always "felt like she was missing out on life", to a gregarious party girl.

"I stopped drinking, I lost weight. I felt so confident."

She didn't think of herself as a drug user.

"It didn't seem like a big deal, as I only did it weekends. Soon I would start Friday. Then I'd feel so bad on Monday I'd have a pick-me-up. Soon I was on it all week."

Her weight dropped to 39kg.

"I was super skinny. Clothes hung off me. I thought I was awesomely hot."

Earlier confidence began to crumble. Within a year she was taking meth intravenously.

"I would never take drugs in front of the kids but, when I became stressed, I'd go in the bedroom, shut the door, inject meth, come out and be able to cope."

By then Richards was injecting so much meth -- up to 3 grams a day, a street value of $3000 -- that she began dealing to fund her habit. She also had gang connections.

"It becomes a fulltime job. I became totally self-absorbed. I would only hang out with people who did drugs. I would do deals. I didn't care, the only thing that mattered was making sure I had enough. I had to inject more and more, just to feel okay. I never thought I had a problem. The only problem was running out."

She injected so much that to get blood into a vein she had to swing her arm several times as through readying to throw the shotput. When those veins packed up, she would inject into her fingers, toes and neck. Jewellery hid the marks.

When her daughter left school and started work, Richards would borrow money from her and hit the pokies.

"Once she had a friend over ... I was doing dinner and needed sour cream. I asked if I could borrow her friend's card to get it, it would only be $5. I went to the cashpoint machine. I got out $20 thinking I will just have a quick go on the pokies. After $20 was gone, I thought I will just get another $20. I went back to the house having spent her entire pay. With no sour cream. There was no dinner. They were in tears. I just went in my bedroom and got my needles out."

Twelve years after she first took meth, police raided her house. Her son, then 17, was still living with her.

"He was disgusted with me, hurt."

Richards brushed aside the charges which hung over her for a year.

"I did more drugs than ever to forget about it. It was my first offence so I thought I would get 'Home D'. I was in lala land. My mum and kids came to support me in court. I injected before I went. I remember the judge talking to me, but I was high. I was even smiling at him. I heard him say "two years, three months prison". My son walked out.

Her daughter had to sell the family home.

"She had to go pack up everything ... she found drug paraphernalia, needles."

There was no detox help in jail.

"I had awful cramping. I could hardly breathe ... It hurt to walk."

Physically detoxed but with no counselling, Haydee took comfort in food. She put on 20kg.

"I ate the cake and read the letters and I looked in the mirror at myself and just wanted to vomit. I was not taking meth, but I was still an addict."

What happened to Lisa and Haydee?

It's eight years since Lisa smoked her last crack pipe. Haydee Richards has been clean for more than five years.

Being former P addicts is not something the women are proud of, but nor is it something they are ashamed of.

Both want to speak out now at a time when methamphetamine use is on the rise in the Bay of Plenty, with experts and local Tauranga MP Simon Bridges saying the region is facing "a resurgence", with a widening number and cross section of users including young people, women, and professionals. (See news story).

The comments come as agencies report a spike in the number of people testing positive for meth in the workplace, an increase in the number of people presenting for treatment, particularly women and professionals, and a record number of police seizures of the drug.

It is difficult to accurately measure methamphetamine users in New Zealand. Not all may present for treatment. For those who do seek help, until recently, information about effectiveness of treatment has been only recorded by individual treatment providers, but this is set to change, says Vanessa Caldwell, chairwoman of the National Council for Addiction Treatment.

"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."

Dr Caldwell says two things are being seen nationally -- a slow rise in the number of users and a significant rise in people experiencing problems with methamphetamine.

"It takes a while to develop an addiction, what we are seeing more visibly now is the number of people that have developed addiction issues."

Dr Caldwell agrees there is an increase in the number of people seeking help for problematic methamphetamine use given that over the past year a number of treatment facilities have reported from their entry data that methamphetamine -- not alcohol -- is the primary substance of choice for most people seeking treatment.

This is the first time, says Dr Caldwell that more people will present with meth addiction than alcohol addiction.

It is a trend noticed by Johnny Dow, director of Higher Ground residential clinic in Auckland, where two-thirds of residents currently list meth as their "drug of choice".

"Although our research shows between the 2012 to 2015 period 48 per cent of residents had methamphetamine as their drug of choice, since April this year the numbers have been between 62 per cent and 70 per cent."

Dr Caldwell says an issue facing provincial areas outside of Auckland, such as the Bay, is they do not have the range and scope of addiction services as say Auckland, and even in Auckland services are under pressure to cope with the number of people seeking treatment.

"We have feedback from a number of communities around New Zealand which suggest that the problematic use of methamphetamine is more evident and there is an increase in difficulty accessing appropriate treatment due to wait lists and lack of provision of services in several locations."

For the 2015/16 year, Bay of Plenty District Health Board expects to spend $62.1 million on mental health and addiction services -- 4.4 per cent of the government's total spend of $1.4 billion for the same period. In the Bay of Plenty, there is one contracted detox bed and no residential services in the region but Mental Health Services clinical director Dr Sue Mackersey says there is access to residential services outside the region for Bay residents.

Bay addicts needing treatment may face big waiting lists.

Higher Ground currently has 70 people waiting. Dow says if he counted all self-referrals from prisons it would be 200. The clinic has 48 beds, with just eight funded for people outside Auckland. Three of these eight beds are currently occupied by people from the Bay of Plenty, and two of these are women. Dow agrees the meth problem is increasing in the provinces.

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

Dow says there needs to be funding for more beds for people outside of Auckland, particularly areas such as the Bay where there are no residential services, which is a problem, says Dow when people have been addicted a long time, like Haydee Richards.

On average, clients who attend Higher Ground have been addicted to meth at least 10 years.

"A therapeutic residential community facility is essential for people with such long addictions who also may be cross addicting. Clinics like Hanmer in Tauranga do a great job and do what they can but certain clients need to be referred to us. These clients compete for beds with the rest of New Zealand."

Dow says a residential approach for long-term meth addiction helps women in particular.

"When people come off meth there is a void and a risk of cross addicting to food or shopping. Women face particular issues -- they may have lost care of their children, have suffered emotional and physical and sexual abuse. They may have eating disorders which surface when they stop using."

Women find it harder to come to treatment, he says, because of families, and often their addiction is hidden when children are small as they are at home. Professional women -- and men -- also find it harder to seek help and many don't, although he has seen an increase in professionals and women.

"There used to be a 60/40 male female split but now it is about equal. And we are seeing more professionals nurses, lawyers, businesspeople."

Dow says women may turn to dealing or sex work to fund their habit -- one female professional client had been spending $7000 a week on meth.

Salvation Army national director of addiction services Lieutenant Colonel Lynette Hutson says in the Bay of Plenty it is "alarming" to note there are currently three times as many females presenting for treatment compared to males.

"The usual proportion is a 60/40 male/female split. We think this is an alarming statistic."

Of these women, 80 per cent are pregnant and all have partners who are in prison, says Hutson.

"This is an unusual situation for us but reflective of some current dynamics ... methamphetamine is available in the Bay of Plenty and we suspect that these men are in prison for drug-related offences while the women may have been using the methamphetamine but have a lesser involvement in the criminal activity."

Hutson says the increase in women seeking treatment may arise from motivation to get help due to the government focus on the Vulnerable Children's Act -- that the threat of losing their children prompts them to present for treatment. The stronghold of their addiction and the increased supply of meth in the Bay is something that services battle.

"Those at the coalface report meth is definitely 'more prevalent out there' in the Bay. When it is available in the community it is harder to get people into treatment as they are currently using and therefore slower coming to treatment."

Their services too were treating professionals, with "highly qualified professional people coming to us with significant addiction problems".

Dale Kirk, a former drug squad detective in the Bay and Waikato for 13 years, thinks there should be more emphasis on the demand than the supply chain at the border.

"We are seeing an epidemic of meth 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 -- it is the demand we need to tackle."

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

"People are in denial about the extent of the problem ... how available it will be to your child ... so the issue is, will they take it? If they want to take it, the suppliers will get it to them no matter how much you try to cut off supply ... so what you need to focus on is stop the demand, get the message out there about how bad it will get for them if they get on meth."

Former meth addicts Lisa and Haydee Richards know just how bad it gets.

Lisa is alarmed at an increased wave of P users in the Bay fuelling demand and supply.

'There is definitely a growing problem in the Bay. People you wouldn't think are doing it. I can walk past people in the supermarket, and know they are on it."

She recognises in others the denial she had.

"You function for a while. You look to the outside world like you are okay but it quickly starts to unravel. P is a real mind f**k, your brain is telling you you are fine. But you are really not fine."

She says like Bridges -- that usage is prevalent in a new class of social users.

"P used to be seen as a gutter drug -- even heroin addicts thought P users were scum, but it's changed, and people are using it socially, and women, mothers who hide it as they do it at home. I have watched the demise of some, it is too hard to watch."

That Christmas in 2008, Lisa was saved by the one friend she had left who didn't do drugs.

"Everywhere was closed as it was Christmas. I stayed in her house, asleep most of the time. I had huge boils on my face. I had no money ... eventually I got into Hanmer Clinic."

Having her daughter taken off her had "scared the shit" out of her. She had to learn at Hanmer -- where she attended two years -- how to live without meth. She started home detention for the theft of the money. She got a job, the anklet still on.

"Every time someone believes in you, it gives you a boost."

Eight years on, Lisa is happily married, a mother of four -- as well as her daughter, she has three other children. When her daughter was about to start school, Lisa relinquished custody.

"It was right for her, she had a bond with my parents and it wouldn't have been right to unsettle her." She has a good relationship with her parents and her daughter. Slim, glamorous, and beautiful, you would never pick her out of a line up as once being a P-addicted hooker.

But it is not all happy endings.

Lisa was recently diagnosed with cancer. The irony now is she must take lifelong drugs to control the disease.

Lisa still sees a counsellor. Recovery and staying healthy is something she needs to do still. Despite this, life is better than good.

"Life is amazing. If I had lived a normal life before then being diagnosed with cancer would have been a huge deal, but given all I have overcome, I know I can cope."

She wants to use her experience to help others.

"There is a better life than the one you think that pipe is giving you."

Despite her positivity, her eyes tear up. "Don't think that meth won't get you, that it won't destroy you. It will. I lost my daughter ... I paid the ultimate price ... so did she."

In September Haydee Richards will tell her story to 500 people at a national addictions conference in Rotorua.

Now 45, Richards lives in Auckland and is a peer support worker for Phoenix, a drug counselling service which works with meth addicts in the community. She comes to the Bay at weekends to visit her daughter, now 27, her two grandchildren, and her son, 23.

Richards agrees Tauranga needs more treatment services, including community and residential care.

She thinks the meth problem is getting worse, and affecting a wider cross section of users.

"It's getting worse, I read it, I hear it, I know people close to me, and I see it at work. My clients are more women than men -- and it is not just a stereotype of a user, it can be the top of the top of society ... anyone. It used to be fairly hard to get meth in Tauranga, now it is easier to get meth than cannabis."

Richards says if she hadn't attended Higher Ground, she would have probably come out of jail and gone back on meth. Detoxing, says Richards, is not the hardest bit, is dealing with addiction.

"At first it was awful, you have to talk about your real shit, spill your guts, face things about yourself that you don't want to."

Leaving the facility, she was encouraged to stay in Auckland to avoid slipping back with the same crowd in the Bay.

"I lived in like a boarding house. I got a job cleaning a motel which was 6km away and I had to walk there and back. I thought -- I am 40 and is this my life, cleaning a motel in a city where I know no one? The life I'd had on drugs seemed more glamorous. I had a house and beautiful clothes."

People she thought were friends no longer contacted her. "I had nothing they needed any more."

Slowly she has rebuilt her life. Her work at Phoenix means she can be honest about "all the bad stuff in my life ... I didn't have to hide anything".

She decided "not to waste her life any more" and has travelled and plans to do more.

She wants to do more work with former addicts.

"I want to show people that there is a better life than on it."

Richards spends a lot of time with her grandchildren.

"I enjoy taking them to the park, doing things, being present. With my kids, I used to be always rushing, telling them to get in the car, quick, as I just wanted to get on it.

"To have my grandkids who have just known me as I am today is special. They have never seen nanny fried."

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