A dangerous and highly addictive drug destroying lives and families is on every street in Levin. And according to a Levin woman at the coalface of a methamphetamine crisis, that's not alarmist scaremongering. It's the truth. Paul Williams reports.
Rachel Donna volunteers for P Pull, a community action group that held a meeting in Levin last week. More than 60 people from all walks of life showed up, who were either directly or indirectly affected by methamphetamine.
She said it was the tip of the iceberg.
"The methamphetamine elephant in the room is getting bigger," she said.
"It's not an epidemic. It's a pandemic."
Donna, who understood the harsh reality of P use through her own past addiction and that of loved ones, said the drug was getting cheaper and its use more widespread, and agency support wasn't coping with the needs of addicts and their families.
"This town is swimming in meth. It's not a ripple anymore - it's a tsunami. It's easier to get meth in this town than pot...the cliff is getting bigger and the ambulance is getting further away," she said.
"One addict can wipe out a whole family. Nans, their children and their moko are smoking the pipe. People are afraid in their own homes."
Once the domain of white-collar users, a gram of the drug was getting cheaper to buy and as a result users were spread along the social spectrum.
"It does not discriminate. It's on the poorer streets, it's on the more affluent streets," she said.
"Meth will turn you from the most honest and upright and morally acceptable person into a scumbag overnight. You will rip off your own family and you won't care who you hurt."
P Pull was a community action group that was established three years ago by Dennis and Liz Makalio in Porirua after they tried to help someone suffering from methamphetamine psychosis, and realised there was an absence of immediate help.
Donna joined P Pull soon after and now facilitated centres in Levin at Hinemoa House, and also in Palmerston North. There are now 14 P Pull centres around New Zealand.
"It was born out of frustration and despair. We recognise that it is a family health crisis and a national crisis, not a personal dilemma," she said.
"Our movement is about education and prevention. We are saying this is a health crisis...health not handcuffs."
"People don't generally ask for help in New Zealand. There is a stigma attached to addiction, but if Johnny walks in it might take months for him to finally get help. People are literally dying to get help."
She said there was limited government agency support and it took too long to help addicts and their families, who often need instant help. It was too late to wait for a referral from Corrections after an addict had been through the judicial system.
A large amount of theft and violent offending was a result of methamphetamine use, she said.
"It can takes weeks and months and that is too long. I could ring up a social services organisation now and won't be seen for three weeks at best, and by a social worker, not a clinician," she said.
"We exist because services don't."
She would like to see police work harder to stem the meth trade.
"We all need to do something about it. It's a community problem and it needs to be a community-led initiative. Drug dealers are making a sh**load of money out of other people's misery," she said.
She said the very top of the methamphetamine trade were white-collar businessmen who used gangs to peddle the drug.
"There are kids running around in this town with gang patches on thinking its cool to be a gangster. They are prospecting our kids."
Perry Rackley, a former professional boxer, had joined Donna as a P Pull facilitator at Hinemoa House, along with Rebekah Elliott Toman.
Rackley had his own demons. He said he became addicted to morphine during his boxing career after initially being prescribed the drug for pain.
He saw no shame in sharing his story, and like Donna, was happy to volunteer his time to help meth users and their families.
Rackley said it was about opening up the conversation to allow people to talk freely and seek help, which was not often the New Zealand way.
"I understand how easy it is to fall into a hole. The hole becomes a rut and you get to a stage where that is your comfort zone. We understand the pull of the pipe," he said.
"It's a major issue in this town. This room should be standing room only. Everybody knows somebody who's on it. Some stick out. Some are hidden under the table."
"But some people will never give up. Meth till death."
He said young children raised in a house with meth were often are given lavish gifts to keep them occupied, but those gifts would be hocked off when circumstances change.
It was a new side of child neglect bought about by meth.
"One minute they've got the X box, the TV, the cellphone...it's the nature of the beast," he said.
Rackley said there was no silver bullet. They were just aiming to bring it to light and help one person or one family at a time.
"The addict doesn't suffer as much as the families. Denial and blame go hand in hand for addicts. They would steal gold from their grandmothers teeth. It flips families on their head," he said.
"The biggest thing is to create a safe spot and a friendly spot for family and people to get help and support."
He often wore a black T-shirt with a "say no to meth" logo and said he gets toots from cars in town and friendly nods and comments of support.
"Don't meth around," he said.
• Next week: What police and agencies say about meth.