Methamphetamine, the scourge by Dr Ron Vail

The recent police shooting of a man high on methamphetamine, running down Te Ngae Road wielding a meter-long machete – despite having been maced and tasered 3 times – is a reminder of what a scourge this drug is to New Zealand and the world.

Methamphetamine is an illegal psycho-stimulant drug. It is most often smoked or snorted, being less commonly injected or orally ingested.

Meth use causes a rapid, pleasurable rush followed by euphoria and heightened attention. It results in increased energy, and a decreased need for sleep. Meth also elicits chronic, adverse mood and mental changes, including irritability, anxiety, aggression, panic, suspiciousness, paranoia, hallucinations and memory impairment.

Distinctive changes occur in the physical appearance of long-term meth users, producing an aging effect. These changes usually result from malnutrition, severe dental decay (known as “meth mouth”), poor hygiene, and weight loss. Long-term users of methamphetamine often exhibit skin-picking behaviors, which can lead to abscesses. Chronic users also have higher rates of seizures, heart attacks and strokes.

Meth use in pregnancy can lead to intrauterine growth retardation, preterm birth, and adverse outcomes to the exposed baby. Men and women who misuse illicit drugs are at increased risk of being victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. Rates of domestic violence exceed 50% in patients with drug use disorders in some settings.

An estimated 1% of New Zealanders have tried methamphetamine.

Due to its potential to harm individual users and society, methamphetamine is a Class A controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. This means it attracts the highest penalties for manufacture, trafficking, sale and use. In addition, possession of the substances used to make it also attracts significant penalties.

The right way to tackle the meth problem is a mixed approach, including punitive measures such as harsher sentences, more education, and more resources to treat addicts.

If you suspect the sale or manufacture of methamphetamine in your neighborhood, the police would be interested in hearing from you, even if by an anonymous tip.

If you or someone you know is using methamphetamine, there are many ways to get help in strict confidence:

The Alcohol Drug Helpline (0800 787 797) provides free and confidential support for any person concerned about alcohol or drug use – by either themselves or by another. When you call you will talk to an experienced counsellor who is there to listen. You can trust the helpline to provide you with confidential and non-judgemental help when you need it. The helpline is open from 10am-10pm, every day.

MethHelp is a uniquely New Zealand website for people seeking help with their own methamphetamine use, as well as someone else’s. MethHelp shares the stories, experiences, insight and hope of people who have been there – people who abused methamphetamine and found a way through. www.methhelp.org.nz

You can also contact your local GP for help.