Methamphetamine is becoming an increasingly common ingredient in the disturbing family violence figures in the Bay of Plenty. A violent tool for perpetrators and a desperate gasp of air for victims. Cira Olivier reports.
While many families were making memories over Christmas, a Tauranga woman was forced to inject methamphetamine.
Another took meth because her husband of 18 years, a "bad meth user," told her to and faced being beaten if she refused.
These are just two examples of women who have sought help from Tauranga Women's Refuge. A refuge seeing a rising number of women showing up with an addiction to methamphetamine, or women forced to try the drug.
"It was that or die," refuge practice team leader Maree Saunders said.
"Because in their mind, and they say it themselves ... well, what could be worse."
Women from all walks of life, all socioeconomic backgrounds, were coming through, hooked.
Some were women who endured family violence and never imagined they would try methamphetamine but now used it as a way to numb the abuse.
Some became dependent on the drug and, in turn, on their violent and abusive partners who fed them the substance.
Saunders said some were forced to have sex to pay off their hits or beaten if they could not pay.
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"If they can't pay and are now hooked on it and are coming down ... they'll do anything to pay off their debt or pay in other ways to get more."
Saunders said she heard "often" about sex rings and women using sex as a means to pay for the drugs.
When she asked them how meth made them feel, "they feel a million bucks. They feel confident, they feel that they can tackle anything".
"Every woman that comes in we've got to check, just to see when they last had meth," Saunders said.
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Women who enter the refuge high pose a threat to the other women and children which means they need to be taken to a different site, Saunders said.
The refuge provided a wrap-around service of support to the women and its doors were always open.
The Bay of Plenty has some of the highest rates of meth and cocaine use in New Zealand, according to a study of the region's wastewater released in October.
They revealed the average daily drug use per 1000 people in each policing district between May and July. It found about 900mg of methamphetamine was used each day per 1000 people in the region.
Drug Help NZ defined methamphetamine as a strong and addictive stimulant.
Users experience enhanced feelings of energy, mood, and libido followed by a comedown.
These comedowns resulted in a loss of good, stable jobs of women at the refuge as they were unable to cope, Saunders said.
Former women's refuge worker Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said no-one should be forced to take any illegal substance.
"If the household has children that reason alone warrants an urgent call to the police or wider whanau for immediate support," Raukawa-Tait said.
"Don't be a doormat to a dickhead."
Family Works area manager Lynne Fairs said the use of meth among women in a violent situation could be used to numb the situation.
Bay of Plenty youth, community and family harm district manager, Inspector Phil Gillbanks said while police did not have any real evidence to confirm some women were being forced to take methamphetamine, it was "quite possible" it was happening.
"What we know is that couples with drug and alcohol addictions have real problems navigating away from the violent relationships, this is particularly so for victims," he said.
He said a victim locked in the cycle of violence may use drugs and alcohol as a tool to cope with their environment.
"This use of, and a consistent cycle of violence, whether it be physical, sexual, psychological or emotional, will often lead to addiction and subsequent mental health issues."
This vicious cycle came with complications as addicts and users - both victims and perpetrators - did not disclose the truth about their substance use, particularly methamphetamine, he said.
"They are often too scared because gangs are often involved, they do not want to threaten their own supply or risk being outcast through being seen as a nark," Gillbanks said.
They also feared external services being involved which could mean other controls were put in place which would prevent them from being able to pay for their addiction.
"The often forgotten victims in all of this are the beautiful children that are born into it, and more often than not fall into the same cycle of chaos as they grow."
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