Mike has never seen himself as a bad person.

He went to a top Auckland private school and played in the first XV. After leaving school, he had a high-flying advertising career.

And yet for the last decade, he's been mired in the New Zealand courts and justice system struggling with a methamphetamine addiction.

Mike - which is not his real name - has done time for gun possession and manufacturing methamphetamine. Behind bars, he met Antonie Dixon, one of New Zealand's most infamous meth-fuelled offenders.

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Dixon, who died in prison in 2009, attacked Simonne Butler and Renee Gunbie with a samurai sword near Thames on January 22, 2003, and murdered James Te Aute in Auckland the same night. He was high on P.

"Antonie said to me once, 'See those sparrows? One has a surveillance camera and the other a microphone, listening to us'."

Mike is among the hundreds of New Zealanders whose lives have been affected by methamphetamine.

Startling new figures obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act show 4722 proceedings against offenders for methamphetamine/amphetamine offences in 2016/17. It's a staggering 78 per cent jump from 2654 arrests in 2012/13. Possession charges leapt from 961 five years ago, to 2188 last year.

"We are concerned about the rise of methamphetamine use in New Zealand and the number of crimes that result from addiction," said National Manager Organised Crime, Detective Superintendent Greg Williams.

The official figures showing the meth rise are backed by anecdotal evidence gathered every day by defence lawyers, Family Court judges, drug experts, and frontline police officers.

"It's everywhere," one Christchurch barrister told the Herald.

"Every other case that goes through the [district] courts could be linked back to P in some way. And it's only getting worse."

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Once known as an expensive urban party drug, especially in underground dance scene circles, methamphetamine has since spread to provincial towns and rural outposts. It's now rampant in small communities across Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, West Coast of the South Island and South Canterbury - often places hit by tough economic times, and where drug treatment resources are scant, or stretched to breaking with meth-related "violence and chaos", says NZ Drug Foundation chief executive Ross Bell.

Kaitaia (population 5000), where four people were killed in 2016, is a perfect example, Bell says of a place "at the absolute sharp end of the chaos the meth trade can cause a community".

The Ministry of Health gave $3 million to Te Ara Oranga last year - a pilot project aimed at reducing the number of Northlanders harmed by methamphetamine.

But the fact meth is no longer confined to the main city centres, "presents problems" for how health services, including drug treatment services, can respond. "While the Ministry works with DHBs to support local initiatives, it is not always possible to have the full range of services available in every town," says Ministry of Health addictions manager Richard Taylor.

The P Scourge. Photo / file
The P Scourge. Photo / file

Former addict Mike is now clean. He has been since August 8 last year.

On Thursday, he graduates from Auckland drug treatment centre Odyssey House.

"Jail is a walk in the park compared to rehab. You have to face the responsibilities of your life, face your demons, and understand the effect of your behaviour on others," he said.

"But now, for the first time since I was a very small child, I feel happy, actually deeply happy."

The intensive rehabilitation programme allowed Mike to tackle his troubled past and delve deep into the "causes of feelings" that led him to use drugs.

He identified a lack of "emotional intelligence" from a workaholic father. He strongly believes that loving environments for infants and young children are major environmental factors that shape brain development.

Now that he knows his father loved him, he just didn't know how to show it, he has "set me free from my DNA".

He vows to give his young son all the love and support that he needs, and to grow up without the "pain and distortions" that shaped his life and led him down a road of drugs and mental illness.

And he says society needs to address how it deals with drug users. Unenforceable laws, moral preaching, a lack of compassion, and narrow medical practices are failing to help transform addicts. He advocates for rehabilitation not detention, and education as the means to prevention.

"There needs to be a complete societal shift in how we deal with me. Society actually needs to take ownership of it and that starts in the home of every Kiwi."

In May, the latest Massey University Illicit Drug Monitoring System (IDMS) - an annual snapshot of drug use - found that meth is increasingly becoming cheaper and easier to find.

Massey University associate professor and lead researcher Chris Wilkins found the average price of a gram of P dropped in Auckland from $579 in 2015 to $485 in 2016, and in Christchurch from $1002 to $746.

Traditionally, alcohol has been the main reason for referrals to national drug treatment provider Odyssey.

But Odyssey chief executive Fiona Trevelyan said meth has overtaken alcohol in the last three to four years, with about two-thirds of all referrals to residential services seeing methamphetamine as the primary drug of concern.

"We are seeing increasing numbers, higher levels of referrals, increasing complexity, and a greater level of demand," she said.

The Drug Foundation says New Zealand's drug-user data collection lags behind other countries, including Australia. The lack of accurate, current data hinders how policy is shaped and where treatment is targeted.

Despite what police and rehab centres are seeing, the Ministry of Health's own data, from the New Zealand Health Survey, indicates that amphetamine "prevalence" has actually dropped in recent years.

Their stats show less than 1 per cent (0.8 per cent) of the population used amphetamines in the past 12 months.

WHERE TO GET HELP

* Alcohol Drug Helpline: Call 0800 787 797 or text 8681, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to speak with a trained counsellor. All calls are free and confidential.

* CareNZ Manaaki Aotearoa: Take their drug self-assessment test at www.carenz.co.nz/drug-self-assessment/

* The New Zealand Drug Foundation: www.drugfoundation.org.nz

* The Salvation Army: 0800 53 00 00