Drugs in small town NZ: 'It's easier to get meth than cannabis'

by Tim Brown / 20 November, 2017

Milton drugs and alcohol counsellor Jamie Addison says the Clutha District is awash with methamphetamine and support services cannot cope with those suffering from dependency. Photo / Tim Brown

Methamphetamine is no longer just a big city problem.

Those at the coal face in Otago's sleepy Clutha District say the area is awash with the drug and they're calling for more access to addiction services.

Kelvin Wisely pleaded guilty earlier this year to his part in a commercial-scale methamphetamine supply operation from his rural property just out of Milton.

Importing the drug from the North Island in thermos flasks, he would hand it on to associates who sold it throughout Otago and Southland.

And there are others.

Two men from Balclutha - a town about 25km from Milton - are currently before the courts facing charges of conspiracy to supply methamphetamine.

Milton drug and alcohol counsellor Jamie Addison said those arrests were just the tip of the iceberg and many people in the district were struggling with addiction to the pernicious drug.

"The primary choice of substance [in the district] is meth and there's dependency," he said.

"These days it's easier to find methamphetamine in these areas than it is to find cannabis."

He had recently spoken to a young user in Milton.

"What I was seeing in this young man was just rage and anger in the front of his mind. He just wanted to lash out because he was hanging for it," Mr Addison said.

That young man was well-qualified, held a senior leadership role in a prominent business and had a supportive family.

"That's all been lost in a period of three months since he started using this drug," he said.

"And that's really horrific. His parents and family all went 'what's going on?'"

However, far from judging users, Mr Addison understands the difficulties they are facing.

"I was introduced to methamphetamine when it became a little more mainstream in the North Island - very quickly, very rapidly I'd say that addiction went from social use to dependency," he said.

"I was robbing off my own family. I was stealing off my own family. And the key principle we had growing up was you never steal from your family - the door is always open if you're hungry come in and have something to eat. So I was looking at any means to fund and support my addiction to meth."

Milton’s sign hails the settlement as the “Town of Opportunities”, unfortunately for residents those opportunities have been recognised by some in the methamphetamine trade. Photo / Tim Brown

His gang involvement had led him down the path of criminality and addiction.

Feeling his life was in jeopardy, he quit the gang lifestyle, packed up his family and moved south, leaving meth and crime behind.

Almost a decade clean, Mr Addison said he could show users a better way. But he could not do it alone.

"In these little areas like Milton and Balclutha, where do they go? What do they do? There's a lot of funding, a lot of emphasis on the bigger areas. But it's these little areas that need a lot more help."

Clutha District Councillor, for the Bruce Ward, Gaynor Finch backed Mr Addison's call for increased funding and support for addiction services in small communities.

The drug was wreaking havoc on families in the area, she said.

"It absolutely ruins people's lives ... and their relatives' lives because they change so dramatically once they're on it," she said.

"They go and commit crimes to be able to keep up the payments to keep their lifestyle fix going."

Reducing waiting times and improving access to addiction services for small town users should be a priority, she said.

Police said they were also doing their part to tackle the drug's epidemic.

The drug caused significant harm - not only to users, but also their friends and families, Clutha-Taieri area response manager Senior Sergeant Cynthia Fairley said.

"Southern Police have received evidence of increased usage from different sources and our staff continually deal with the tragic outcomes associated with incidents where drugs, as well as alcohol, are the underlining problem," she said.

"The use of methamphetamine has no positive outcome.

"Police will target those involved in the distribution of methamphetamine and hold them to account through the justice system, while we continue to work with other agencies in assisting and facilitating those individuals who want to quit the drug."

If the district was to eradicate methamphetamine, it would take a community-wide approach to do so, Ms Fairley said.

Kelvin Wisely will be sentenced for his offending in the Dunedin District Court next month.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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