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Meth epidemic takes its toll on Motueka's vulnerable

October 5, 2016
By Emma Osman

Residents of Motueka and the surrounding area will undoubtedly be aware of the problem with methamphetamine which the authorities are currently struggling to get a handle on.

Community leaders have spoken of meth as one of the area's 'biggest challenges'. The current problem is considered the second 'meth epidemic' to hit New Zealand's South Island - but in reality what we're seeing is more an exacerbation of the 'first' epidemic than another distinct meth event.

While the drug is indiscriminate about whom it affects, with usage occurring across the socio-economic board, it seems, worryingly, that meth in Motueka is taking a serious toll on the most vulnerable members of our society - often without them touching a gram of the stuff.

Meth and mental illness
There is an acknowledged link between mental illness and substance abuse - although the relationship between the two is complex, and rarely the same in any two individuals.

Problematically, substance abuse and mental illness frequently sustain one another, with drugs like methamphetamine increasing current symptoms and perhaps even adding new mental health conditions to pre-existing conditions, while the illness itself lowers the sufferer's resistance to the allure of substances.

Those who have experienced trauma in their lives are also vulnerable to substance abuse - particularly if they are suffering from PTSD as a result.

While some may believe that they are 'self-medicating' - i.e. using substances to escape from the hell inside their own heads - ultimately, the use of substances makes any mental illness an awful lot worse.

Drug dealers have been known in the past to deliberately target the mentally ill, knowing that they are vulnerable to addiction and are likely to prove reliable customers.

For anyone with a mentally ill loved one, the presence of meth and meth dealers in Motueka must therefore be extremely troubling.

Meth and young people
Also a cause for concern is the number of young people living in families which have been infiltrated by methamphetamine.

Meth addiction renders the majority of users profoundly incapable of decent parenting on a very basic level, meaning that a lot of kids simply aren't getting the care and attention that they need.

Meth addicts frequently lose their appetites, and cease to care about the 'trivial' matters of their lives. As such, the children of meth addicts may also find themselves deprived of food and other basic necessities. But this is only half the story.

Meth is known to cause erratic and sometimes violent behaviour - the provocation for which is frequently an imagined slight, or even a hallucination. Having a meth-addicted family member is almost certain at some point to mean exposure to violence and/or disturbing behaviour of a kind to which no child should be exposed.

Furthermore, meth addicts rarely indulge their addiction alone. The children of a meth addict thus find themselves either left home alone for hours while their parents are dosing up at a friend's house, or have their own house occupied at all hours by meth addicts. Not a particularly wonderful environment for anyone to grow up in.

Meth and crime
It's worth noting that increased meth usage is also associated with a rise in crime. Sadly, the desperation of meth addicts frequently means that they target the most vulnerable people, believing them to be an easy target.

The elderly, those with impaired mobility, and those unable to afford decent security are more commonly subjected to meth-related crime than those who appear more able to 'defend themselves'.

While meth addiction itself may therefore affect anyone, from any walk of life, it is the vulnerable of Motueka who are suffering the most from the epidemic.

The mentally ill, the less able, and the young people of Motueka are disproportionately disadvantaged by the actions of meth dealers and users in the community - whether or not they actually use the drug themselves.

Of these, the problems facing the children of addicts are a cause of particular concern. Not only can one's childhood experiences seriously affect one into adulthood, but these children are also likely to suffer from educational setbacks and considerable social disadvantage.

Worse, the stigma of having a meth problem in the family prevents many from speaking out about their situation, and thus potentially obtaining help.

This is a serious problem for Motueka, and one which, sadly, doesn't look like going away any time soon.

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