A Bay mother who was told by a health worker to prepare to sign her meth-addicted teenager's death certificate says other parents would be "gobsmacked" to know how many teenagers are being sucked into the Bay's "horrific" methamphetamine scene.
She is urging parents to attend a "must-do" P-Awareness seminar next month targeted at parents of school-aged children.
"I wanted to help my son, so reached out to addiction specialists but was told bluntly by one that he was a high suicide risk. If he didn't kill himself I knew he could be killed by others," said Sue, whose name has been changed.
Sue says methamphetamine traps not just the addicts, but also their families who are trapped into parenting out of fear.
"I have always tried to maintain my responsibility to parent him but find myself continually paralysed with the fear of his death as I didn't believe I was strong enough to cope if I was standing over his coffin."
Sue knows parents of meth-addicted kids who wish their children would get prison sentences as opposed to continue in the P world that can result in their death.
Her son became addicted to meth as a teenager after being offered it by friends with gang connections. A professional in the education sector and financially secure, Sue points out that meth is "not just for poor kids" and urges parents "don't be blind".
After experiencing the world of meth through her son's addiction for more than six years, Sue has been both "devastated" by what she now knows, but wants to share her knowledge to enlighten other parents.
"Meth is easily available, often more so than cannabis. It's cheaper than ever in the Bay - almost half the price it used to be a few years ago which means they can get a point bag -a tenth of a gram, for $60.
"That makes it as cheap as cannabis. And so for many teenagers that is easily affordable...and tempting when it is not just offered but pushed on to them. Often by people with gang connections, and for some kids looking for acceptance or new mates, those gangs seem like a family.
"Like they are filling a hole...maybe if a kid has had an absent father or strict rules at home, then suddenly the kids might feel they are welcomed into a whole new family. But of course, these people don't give a flying crap about your kid and wouldn't hesitate to give them a beating or worse if they can't pay their drug debts.
"So then the kids fall into dealing, and suddenly your child is in over their heads in a very very dangerous volatile world."
Sue says parents need to equip themselves with knowledge about the signs of P usage.
"You might think you would know, but unless you know what to look for, you don't. It's not like their skin immediately deteriorates, and they become emaciated. That might happen after several years. For the first few years, they could be high achieving at school or work, seem efficient, organised...you might even think, 'wow they are going really well'."
The telltale signs that a young person might be using meth will be revealed at P: An Awareness Seminar, held at Tauranga Boys' College next month.
The seminar is organised by Brave Hearts; a registered local charity set up by Tauranga police officer Senior Constable Lindsay Smith, also known as "Red", together with Mount businesswomen Erin O'Neill.
O' Neill was inspired to start the group to support families coping with the fallout of having a loved one addicted to methamphetamine after her son became addicted at just 15 while still at school, an addiction which lasted 10 years. He is now clean.
The Brave Hearts group meets twice monthly in the Bay and attracts new members every meeting. This seminar is an open invitation to anyone -particularly parents and grandparents, concerned about the Bay's "increasing methamphetamine usage".
Like Sue, O'Neill says without knowledge, parents remain in the dark, as she was when she was unaware for four years that her son was smoking meth out of modified lightbulbs at home - despite the fact that lightbulbs kept going missing.
"I asked where the lightbulbs were going and why there were broken bits. He would say they kept breaking when he tried to change them but that the fixture was a bit tricky. I was happy he was changing the light bulbs, and I didn't have to get up and do it...I had no clue this was anything to do with drugs...he didn't look like a drug addict, and I would never have suspected."
"I remember his 18th birthday party, we had a lovely cake and he turned up with a black eye. His granddad was joking about how he hoped the other fella was worse off...we were totally clueless. Looking back all the signs were there; I just didn't know what they were."
O'Neill doesn't want other parents to go through what she and Sue did.
The seminar will also debunk some of the stigmas about methamphetamine addiction,
"No one wants to talk at the school gate about how their child is taking P, but in fact, by talking more, it gives families more strength to tackle this as a community."
MC of the event, Tommy Kapai, director of social agency Te Tuinga Whanau Trust, agrees that to "fight the Bay's methamphetamine beast", knowledge is an empowering weapon.
"We fear what we don't know. Some people don't want to know because they think meth won't affect them, but it's extending right across our community not just the poor, but a lot in the professional sector -even teachers, doctors, lawyers...the poison of meth reaches everywhere."
Former meth addict turned social worker Glenn Shee who works in addictions and mental health with young people aged 10 upwards agrees it is not a "poor man's drug".
"You can send your kid to what you think is a good school or private school or wherever, but it is not going to protect them. From what I have seen and know kids in the richer suburbs are more likely targeted."
I is hard to get a gauge of how many young people using meth but Shee expects "floods" of young meth addicts to emerge soon.
"At the moment the numbers are not showing it because those kids are hiding it...and they are good at hiding it, even though I know what I am looking for, some people you would just never realise that they have been taking meth for years. And sometimes families hide it too."
Tauranga police officer Red who looks after 36 families in the Bay with an addicted child, agrees that methamphetamine use is on the rise affecting the whole Bay community, regardless of age, gender and profession, and would urge parents from all walks of life to attend the seminar.
"Meth doesn't distinguish between school deciles."
Red says meth's increase is run by ever more sophisticated organised crime, i.e., gangs who are "co-operating at a high level".
Shee says people don't often realise that gangs are not just peopled by
patched motorbike riders but all sorts of individuals,
"The patched gang member, they might not be involved in meth, some are dead against it. Like in any groups there are good and bad, and splinter groups...so yes some people in gangs, what people think of as gangs might be involved. But many people involved in meth are actually business people. They may not wear leather jackets or ride motorbikes, but they are part of the organised crime...so I think parents need to understand, it is just as likely to be your next door neighbour offering your kid methamphetamine as someone from what you think of as a gang."
The high level of supply in the Bay is reflected by a sharp drop in price, says Red.
"You can get a gram for $600, better quality than years ago when it used to cost $1000. "
While he says this applies to other regions too, "this region, in particular, we see a rise in methamphetamine usage...so what we would like to do is help people to know what they look for when they come across it with their children, or who they are associated with".
"It is fact that being aware of P is essential and for parents to arm themselves with knowledge about drug use signs because the earlier you can get on to drug abuse the better off their children will be."
Sue hopes that her son, now an adult, can still get clean but wishes she had known how to help him earlier,
"In dark times I do have the image of myself standing over his coffin - I am realistic to know how this drug plays out and percentage of kids who become addicted just never make it...whether it is their addiction that kills them, they kill themselves in despair, in a drug-related accident, or someone else kills them.
"But I hold on to the fact that there can be healing. I know he has the potential for his life to be successful and productive. I will never give up on him."
P: An Awareness Seminar
When: Tuesday 11 April 7.30 to 9pm. Doors open 7pm
Where: Graham Young Theatre, Tauranga Boys' College -664 Cameron Road
Freephone: 0508 272834 (0508 BRAVE Hearts)
Who is invited: The seminar is open to the public and there is no cost. It will be of particular interest to family with school aged children, and those involved in the education sector eg teachers.
MC: Tommy Kapai Wilson, author and director, Te Tuinga Whanau
Lindsay (Red) Smith, Senior Constable, Tauranga Police
Pat Buckley, Life Skills Educator, Amped4life and finalist NZer of the year 2012
Glenn Shee and Taurua Faulkner , Ngai Te Rangi
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN
-How to identify the tell tale signs including behaviour and drug paraphernalia as well as drugs themselves
-The key risk factors for your child
-What support is available
-Skill to cope when a loved one is addicted.