At 14 years old Riana Potaka had been smoking dope and boozing at parties for at least three years - P was just something new to add to the mix.

"The first time I took P I was with workmates ... surrounded by influences."

She admits she did feel peer pressured but she was a little curious. Everyone around her did it and in her eyes it seemed normal.

"I didn't know much about the drug but I knew people lost things from it."

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From the moment Riana took hold of the bong, inhaled the smoke and experienced her first "high" her life, very quickly, started to spiral out of control ... until 10 years later when she landed in jail.

She tells me being locked up was her way out.

Last month Whanganui held its first march against P and Riana was one of 12 people who took the Majestic Square stage to share three minutes of her horror story with what other speakers called "the evilest drug in the world".

Nearly two years ago she left Whanganui to deal with her addiction - away from her user associates and away from the place she said was drenched with temptations of P.

She returned to her home town for the first time with a message.

"Don't do it, you'll look back and wonder why."

After the march Riana returned to Auckland where she was now living but agreed to chat with me over the phone.

Her 6-year-old daughter answered: "Mum" she yelled, "it's for you."

Riana took the phone and you could hear the joy in her voice when she told me her daughter was back in her life after her 18 months of rehabilitation.

When I asked if she would be comfortable sharing her story with me there was a long pause and a deep breathe echoed through the phone line and then she said: okay.

She told me she wanted to tell her story to encourage others to take their own steps to recovery and raise awareness about the harm caused by the drug.

Her answers begin brief and I can sense the pain as she talks.

"I started taking it every now and then at parties ... I just associated it with dope and alcohol and then it became a confidence booster and I started to become reliant on it.

"It became weekly until it was daily and I was using up to four grams a day."

Her partner at the time was a drug dealer and accessing P was easy.

"All I had to do was send a text and within the hour it would be delivered to the end of my driveway ... I could get as much as I could afford to pay."

But it wasn't long before she lost her job because she was partying too often and meth started to control her life.

She drifted from her workmates, and her partner was one of the few people who knew about her addiction.

At the age of 16 she got pregnant and continued using throughout her pregnancy. It was during that time when meth began impacting her mental state.

"I started getting psychotic and becoming really paranoid ... but there was no one there I could reach out to so I carried on using."

At the age of 18, with one child in her care, she started using with her parents and later she had two more children.

"I neglected my children ... sometimes they would go without food and sometimes I would leave them at mum's doorstep so I could go out."

Whanganui children plead not to meth up their future. Photo/ Stuart Munro
Whanganui children plead not to meth up their future. Photo/ Stuart Munro

At the age of 23, Riana was sentenced to home detention for driving while disqualified.

She describes that period as her darkest days, feeling trapped and alone.

"There was no way out and I started having suicidal thoughts. I wanted to stop using but I was surrounded by it and I felt like I couldn't escape.

"I ended up smashing my partner and breaking my bracelet on purpose so I could be sent to jail ... it was my way out."

Riana spent four months in jail, sleeping and eating most of the time, and no longer surrounded by drugs.

She knew the only way she could recover was to leave Whanganui, so she moved to Auckland.

"That's when I began my road to recovery. I started with a rehabilitation programme called Wings Trust."

She made a new circle of friends and didn't associate with anyone who did drugs or drank alcohol.

Now, nearly two years sober she is confident she has knocked P on the head.

"My head is a lot clearer, I finally got my licence back, I'm learning how to set goals for myself and I've just recently got my daughter back and I'm due to get my son back in six weeks."

But sadly, she says she still feels disconnected with Whanganui.

"To be honest I try to stay away because nearly everyone I know down there is using ... but it's funny now I'm sober I keep bumping into people who aren't using and I think where were you before."

New Zealand 'P' Pull campaign group march in Whanganui's first campaign against meth. Photo/ Stuart Munro
New Zealand 'P' Pull campaign group march in Whanganui's first campaign against meth. Photo/ Stuart Munro

Donna Lawrence, a former P addict herself, bought the New Zealand "P" Pull group to Whanganui. She has been working with community groups to spread awareness and prevention about the drug.

She is lobbying for a detox clinic to be set up in Whanganui and more information about the harm of meth implanted into early education.

Donna said morals and values were becoming lost in our young people.

"We need to talk more openly about the effects meth can have ... it's about implanting that conscience back into our young people."

Whanganui Police area commander Nigel Allan said absolutely meth was a problem within the district but it's part of a nation-wide issue.

"We are seeing an increase in the number of prosecutions for meth related crime so that in itself shows an issue in our community."

But he it was hard to control but it was just a Police response.

"We investigate and we prosecute offenders for supply of meth but as a community we need to be looking at the drivers behind that and make sure we are able to support people struggling with meth in the community."

Gang commentator and anti-P campaigner Denis O'Reilly went as far to say it's not an epidemic, it's now endemic and it's not stopping anytime soon.

Gang commentator and anti-P campaigner Denis O'Reilly. Photo/ file
Gang commentator and anti-P campaigner Denis O'Reilly. Photo/ file

"We saw the first influx of meth, and in 2012 when the percentage of New Zealanders using dropped from 2 per cent to 1 per cent we thought it was reducing but it hasn't. It's just getting worse and it's going to be a marathon to overcome it."

He said the only way to kill it was to reduce the demand.

"House by house, street by street, and community by community we need to build up residents. We need to get people saying, 'no I don't need that,' and that's to do with culture.

"Meth is a highly addictive drug. It's easy to stop but when you are surrounded by it, it's just as easy to dive back in ... sometimes the only way out is to get away."

Denis started campaigning against meth in 2004 after his good mate committed suicide in a meth induced coma.

"He was a Black Power leader and I later discovered five other guys in the same chapter had killed themselves with meth. So that's when I decided to do something about it."

Since then he has been working with gangs across the country to help members become P-free.

"I've seen meth tear up whanau and split gangs."

Denis said it was sad because a lot of the guys in the gangs who were dealing were doing it to support their own addiction.

In his blog, Nga Kupu Aroha (words of love), in a 2005 post he wrote: law enforcement authorities have long held that gangs are key New Zealand players in the manufacture distribution, and use of methamphetamine and there is widespread evidence to support that. But that game has changed. A gram of rock methamphetamine can be bought in Asia for $20 and sold in New Zealand for $1000.

And yet distribution has changed once again. Denis tells me the price of meth in New Zealand has fallen by at least 40 per cent.

"It has become more profitable mid-way down the market and the amount available has boomed ... it is easier to get than weed."

Denis said it was impossible to stop the amount of P entering the country.

"Border control are catching about 20 per cent of it.

"Just the other day they uncovered a whole lot of wet substance that just needed to be dried out and it would have been ready for use. Drug smugglers could drop a drum just off the coast and it could be picked up."

At the end of the day, he said, it would only stop when people start saying they had no use for the drug.

About methamphetamine:

- Also known as speed, P, meth, crystal, ice and yaba
- It's an extremely addictive, powerful stimulant that produces wakefulness, hyperactivity and a euphoric effect
- In New Zealand, meth is available in two main forms: a powder and a crystal "rock"
Crystal rock methamphetamine is the purest form of methamphetamine. It is often called "ice" due to its appearance. This highly addictive form is becoming more popular. Because it is usually smoked it is absorbed rapidly into the body, resulting in more pronounced effects on the central nervous system.
Methamphetamine powder is snorted, injected or swallowed as a pill by users. It can come in a variety of shades of blue, green, brown and yellow.