Meth is "peddling misery" in the Bay of Plenty as mass urine testing reveals nearly 1kg - or up to 24,000 hits - of the Class A drug is used in the region each week.
Support services say they are seeing more meth users with mental health struggles, and families are also seeking medical attention due to drug-fuelled violence in their homes.
Services on the ground are seeing the P epidemic explode, while the Government is promising millions of dollars worth of support for the region - particularly Rotorua and Taupō.
The latest findings from the New Zealand Police wastewater drug testing programme reveal the average daily drug use per 1000 people in each policing district between November last year and January.
The scheme tests for meth, ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine, fentanyl and heroin in what is, essentially, a national urine test.
The Bay of Plenty had one of the worst recorded methamphetamine use per capita in the country, with 800mg used per day, exceeding the national average.
This was about the same as the East Coast region, and behind Northland which had around 850mg.
Methamphetamine remains the most commonly detected illicit drug nationwide, with 13.1kg used each week, down from the previous three months where an average of 13.6kg was used weekly.
But instead of following the national trend, the region increased an average of 200mg a day over the same period. This quarter was, however, down from the May to July period last year which sat at 900mg per day.
The estimated average weekly meth use across the region was 966g.
Brave Hearts NZ founder Erin O'Neill said 1g provided 10 to 25 "hits" depending on who was using it, and one hit could last "a lot less" for frequent users.
This meant the number of hits across the region was up to 24,000 every week.
O'Neill said the number of families wanting support and advice was rising and had been for the past 20 years.
As a result, they saw more grandparents raising grandchildren, a rise in crime, and financial issues.
Wastewater samples were collected from sites labelled Tauranga beach, Tauranga city, Whakatāne, Rotorua, Tokoroa, Ōpōtiki, Taupō, and Kawerau. Meth was the most prevalent drug from each site.
Kawerau was the worst in the country with 95 per cent prevalence. Tokoroa was the third-worst in the country with 91 per cent positive testing for the substance.
In Rotorua, this was 82 per cent, Ōpōtiki was 88 per cent, and Whakatāne was 86 per cent.
Regional manager for Lifewise Rotorua and Bay of Plenty Haehaetu Barrett said families were being "torn apart" as the service saw an increase in the demand for its facilities, and recovery and accommodation services.
"The addiction takes over a lot of decision making in the family home."
The "high-level impacts" of addiction caused a ripple effect from finances to sometimes fatal outcomes.
She said family members supporting loved ones also needed support, and this was important to look at when considering service provisions.
Support needed to be provided for "at least two years" once a person was clean, as it was easy to relapse once out of a rehabilitation centre, she said.
She said the increased demand showed the need for support for prevention work through community services, and more support was needed for community groups, volunteers, and marae who were often the first port of call for someone battling addiction.
Barrett said an injection of funding to the Rotorua and Taupō area through the Lakes District Health Board post-Covid had been appreciated.
This funding helped the area take on six new staff in the last three months and they were currently recruiting for another eight, which had been an issue in the past due to budget constraints.
Bay of Plenty police Detective Senior Sergeant John Wilson said the link between meth and organised criminal groups was clear.
"These groups don't care about the immeasurable harm they are causing in their own communities, which is why police must continue to target and prosecute these gangs."
He said financial gain was the primary motivation for those supplying meth.
"Police continue to seize their ill-gotten gains through the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act and make sure these groups don't see the benefits of peddling misery in the community."
The "devastating impact" was especially felt by youth and vulnerable people, he said, affecting not only the person using but their families, friends and their wider community.
A Lakes DHB spokeswoman said the prevalence and availability of meth fuelled the rise in use and created "a number of presentations" to the board's mental health services and emergency department.
Medical attention from meth use included mental health as well as acute cardiac and neurology presentations.
Policies and promises
Earlier this year, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said Northland's Te Ara Oranga programme - where police and health partner to help problem meth users - would be rolled out to 4000 more people in regions which were high-use areas including the Bay of Plenty and the East Coast.
It would cost $38 million over four years.
"It reduces supply through targeted enforcement, and reduces demand by steering drug users into recovery and treatment programmes and helping them find work," Ardern had said.
A spokesman for Health Minister Andrew Little said implementing the Labour Party's election policies was a task for the new Government.
"Nevertheless, the people of [the] Bay of Plenty can be assured the new Government is committed to building on recent work to improve outcomes for those dealing with meth and other drug issues."
This recent work includes Lakes District Health Board's new residential services for mental health and addiction in Rotorua and Taupō, with services beginning in February 2021 and become fully operational by July.
Funding was also secured for a new acute inpatient mental health facility at Rotorua Hospital worth $31m-$25m from the Government and $6m from the health board. Construction is due to start in the second half of next year and is expected to take about two years.
A new mental health and addiction service for youth in Rotorua and Taupō called Pūtake Nui Rangatahi Potential.
Peer support in Rotorua and Taupō, before and after residential care and increased capacity at the Bay of Plenty specialist service to be provided over the next four years.
Funding for three years for the Eastern Bay Iwi Provider Alliance to run Mauri Oho – Working to Reduce Harm of Methamphetamine until 2023 to provide individualised treatment and support services to address meth harm for whānau, supporting up to 80 people each year.