Key Points:

  • P is easier to access than cannabis in this Manawatu town
  • Even then, marijuana is often laced with P and given freely to youths
  • One meth affected teen smashed his back teeth while chewing on a screwdriver
  • Youth centre resembled a sick bay when synthetic drugs were taken off shelves
  • Says youth worker Sheril Day: 'People are losing everything'.

You'd be hard pushed to find a more typical heartland setting to see just how pernicious the P scourge has become.

Youth worker Sheril Davy recounts one recent episode where a group of young Pahiatua people videoed their friend smoking "crack".

"He was chewing a screwdriver and smashed the back of his teeth," she said.

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Horrifically, she said this was not out of the ordinary.

"For some of these children, it's normal in their home and for some, the drugs are just a way of getting through their day."

For the past 16 years, Davy has taken care of troubled youth in the small town of Pahiatua, population around 4000.

The veteran youth worker is now embarking on a Mental Health and Addiction Support Apprenticeship through Industry Training Organisation Careerforce, seeking to arm herself with the tools she needs to provide specialised care to the youngsters.

"One of the biggest challenges in our community and for our service is that we have become a one-stop-shop but we can't access adequate mental health services - this is why I wanted to do the qualification," she said. "I'm doing the work already."

Ms Davy, who runs the Tararua Youth Centre, said the biggest issue facing youth alongside mental health, was addiction.

"We have 14-year olds smoking P because it's easier to get than pot. We struggle with things like family violence and the normalisation of addictions."

She said the impact of P in the community was across the board.

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"We've got people you'd never expect taking these drugs. When they legalised synthetics and then they decided they wanted to take it off the shelves, this centre was like a sick bay.

"We were here for days with kids trying to come off. This is where we come in."

Multiple sources in the town said dealers were giving marijuana laced with P freely to youth.

"A lot of the time it's in the tinnies... the kids are aware of it, they can spot it now.

"You've only got to walk down the street and see someone from a couple of years ago and you don't recognise them. It's the adults too...then it's the ripple effect down.

"People are losing everything."

Suicide, depression, self-harm and violence are also part of the job.

"We've lost young people to suicide yes and, things like self-harm can also become an addiction. It's a release and we've got to be here to help them, on the ground.

"There are times we call mental health; no one comes so we drive the 45 minutes to hospital with these kids."

Local police declined to comment on the issue of methamphetamine use in Pahiatua.

However, Sergeant Shane Brown said they were aware it was an issue, just as in any other rural community in New Zealand. He welcomed any information from the public on the sale and supply of drugs.

Tararua College principal Jon Ward acknowledged drug use had been an issue with some youth but said supporting students with a positive education helped them overcome this.

Tararua College principal Jon Ward. Photo/Sieska Verdonk
Tararua College principal Jon Ward. Photo/Sieska Verdonk

"We really need to give decent pathways to youth. I think there's been a real gap around supporting students in this particular area here because there haven't been those linkages with industry...but that's changing.

"Students want to be seeing a way forward in their local community, and not just seeing that all the opportunities are elsewhere."

The school also has an alternative education programme aimed at reintegrating students who have been removed from the mainstream environment.

"It gives them far more one-on-one support...the key thing for me is the mentoring/relationship side of things that keeps these students focused."

Ms Davy said building trust with those who came through the doors of the centre was vital.

"For a lot of the young people I work with, they've often had a trauma that's never been dealt with."

She described one 15-year-old boy she worked "intensively" with for nine months.

"He was a challenge, a real challenge...this young man had had a horrific upbringing.

"He didn't understand emotions, he couldn't feel empathy, he was battered...he disassociated from any type of feeling."

But one day on the way to counselling, Ms Davy saw a breakthrough.

"I would have to walk him in, wait outside then walk him back to the car.

"One day we were driving to the place and it was really, really cold, and I feel the cold a lot, and I kept rubbing my hand on the steering wheel.

"He pulled his hand over and rubbed my hand and says to me, 'you're cold'.

"He said to me, 'you wait here, I'll walk to the counselling building, you stay in here where it's warm'.

"To someone else that wouldn't mean much but, to me, that was huge.

"He showed emotion...he felt safe enough to do that and it was the first time he ever felt really cared for. He'd been let down, by all the systems."

Sheril Davy on the street in Pahiatua. Photo/Sieska Verdonk
Sheril Davy on the street in Pahiatua. Photo/Sieska Verdonk

Ms Davy said mental health was a system they were continually fighting.

"In Pahiatua, we don't have a mental health team as such within our community; you have to go to Palmerston North.

"If we do referrals to Palmerston North, the kids have to travel to have an assessment but they've got to get through the gate first.

"The criteria...low to moderate, moderate to high, it needs to go.

"We have actually taken young people and adults over to A and E after making phone calls to Palmerston North Hospital and nobody coming.

"We've sat there for hours until they've been accessed help and, unfortunately, a lot of the time they're not put into a ward because we've managed to sit with them for six to eight hours, got them a bit calm, so of course they say well they're not actually a risk at the moment."

"We can wait weeks for referrals, and sometimes they will ring the young person, leave a message and then close the file saying no contact."

Ms Davy said care provided to those suffering from mental health issues was below par and she hoped the apprenticeship would enable her to improve this.

If you need help:

If you are worried about your or someone else's drug use or mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

Or if you need to talk to someone else:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (Mon-Fri 1pm to 10pm. Sat-Sun 3pm-10pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666