A former methamphetamine addict who is now clean says recovery is possible, and she now feels "happy", something she never thought was possible.
Warning: This story discusses addiction and suicide.
She detailed her experience as calls are made for an expedited rollout of a successful meth rehab programme from Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) after police wastewater testing found methamphetamine use spiked in the second half of last year.
Holly Beckham (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Rangi) spent 19 years taking all sorts of drugs, including meth, after a difficult childhood. She was not surprised its use went up during lockdown, with not much to do and nowhere to go.
"If you're sitting with trauma and you're sitting with emotions you don't know how to control, it's really intolerable. Reaching for the pipe or any drugs is just a way of being able to cope, I guess. It eases the pain, the suffering."
Beckham witnessed her father die in a horrible way as a child and had other traumatic experiences in her early life. She used meth to cope with her own trauma and numb the pain.
She started using alcohol at 12 and then other drugs, and over 19 years of addiction they ruined her life. She lost her job and her marriage and felt like she was living in a sort of constant insanity.
"I'm Māori, and I never really was connected to my culture either. Just so much disconnection and my whole life I'd been looking for connection. I thought I'd found that connection through drugs," she said.
"But I realised this can't be life. I looked around and I saw other people and I thought 'they've got hope, they're happy - I want that'."
She got help and went to rehab, and while it was difficult, she is now three years clean.
Beckham is trying to make a documentary about wāhine Māori who have also recovered from drug addiction. She's trying to come up with the money to make it. It's called 'Mana over Meth'.
The Drug Foundation advocates strongly for help for drug addicts, not punishment.
Deputy director Ben Birks Ang is pushing for one initiative in Northland, Te Ara Oranga, to be rolled out more widely.
"What we have here is an excellent initiative, that has been trialled over the past few years and evaluated. [It] shows a partnership between local communities, police and health services, that is resulting in a 34 percent reduction in harm from criminal offending and a return on investment of $3 to $7 for every dollar invested," Birks Ang said.
The programme offered early help to users and linked them with ongoing support including housing and a job if needed, he said.
"It is something that the current government has said that they would like to roll out into other places. It's a matter of time I think before we see this. But we're calling on the government to increase that investment and to be able to speed that up."
The government said it was still committed to rolling out Te Ara Oranga more widely before the end of the parliamentary term, which will likely be October next year.
Beckham said her documentary about a recovering user would be punctuated by hope, showing that it is possible to recover.
She wished she had seen something like it when she was in the throes of addiction.
"I think at the time it would have been like, 'hey, there's this thing called recovery', which I didn't realise. That there is a better way of living life. It probably would have saved me several ..." she trailed off, before continuing. "I tried killing myself so many times."
Now, she is a completely different wāhine.
"I feel amazing. I feel happy, and I'm comfortable with who I am, which I never thought was possible either," Beckham said.
Te Ara Oranga is a partnership approach between Northland DHB, three NGO providers (Salvation Army, Odyssey House and Ngāti Hine Health Trust) and Northland Police.
"Its aim is to respond to the harm caused by methamphetamine in the community by supporting the person and their whānau with a health response as opposed to treating this as a criminal issue," a spokesperson said.
"Its intent is to provide a rapid response to referrals which come from a number of sources including the police, self, whānau and other providers.
"The independent evaluation of the service has demonstrated its success and it is providing positive outcomes for people and their whānau and reducing the harm caused by methamphetamine in the community."
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