The nightmare reality of meth
FORTY-five-year-old Shane looks like a man you wouldn't want to mess with.
Heavy set, tattooed, he has scars where once he smashed a wall in a P-fuelled rage, and another time he attacked a mate with a wheelbrace when he had pinched one of Shane's smokes.
Shane (not his real name) and his mates used to get "fried" on meth and watch episodes of Breaking Bad and laugh, "because it was like a comedy to us".
In the downtown Tauranga cafe where we meet, an elderly woman comes over to ask Shane to unscrew the top off a bottle, saying, "You look like you have muscles, dear, can you help me with this?"
When she moves away, Shane chuckles, baring missing teeth. "If only she knew."
In the years Shane was addicted to meth, he admits he was violent, involved in crime, and "lost his morals".
Those in his circle met various fates over the years "some got busted, went to prison. Lost custody of their kids. Disappeared. Overdosed..."
Addicted to methamphetamine on and off since he was 26, Shane has now been clean for eight years, has turned his life around, gone to university and works in the alcohol and drug addiction sector.
Meth is is not a game, this is not Breaking Bad ... this is not a drug you can mess around in thinking it is just fun. It will get you. It will take you down dark places you couldn't even dream existed in your worst nightmares.
He wanted to share his story at a time when he said the region is in the grip of the worst meth epidemic he has seen, far worse he says than back in 2007 when he was an associate "meth cook", filling capsules to supply. His good friend, the "main cook", worked from his rural farm.
It was a world, he said, in which guns and other weapons were the norm.
"I had guns, and a crossbow ... in the farm there were guns everywhere, and cameras. You get paranoid."
The farm where his friend cooked up large quantities of methamphetamine just looked like any other rural property he said.
"If you went up the lane you would never know ... but inside there were containers and containers of it. That was his full-time job, cooking it ... and he was good at it. He would mainly cook for rich business clients. He would make $50,000 a week easy and that was on a slow week ... he had one guy, a business guy who would buy an ounce a week at $20,000."
Shane said the meth scene was not about guys wearing gang patches.
"Sure, some people are involved in gangs, but the big players are business people."
Shane says he never cooked himself, but would fill capsules "of freshly cooked stuff" for his own use, and to on-sell.
"I don't know how many I would make, I was so frizzled, I would be just filling them and filling them. I didn't care really as long as I had enough.
"I had no soul ... I did bad things. I hurt my parents. I stole, lied, cheated, hurt people."
He had first tried the drug when a flatmate offered it to him.
Sure, some people are involved in gangs, but the big players are business people.
"Back then I had never even heard of it. My flatmate put it in a glass of water and I drank it. I had this old ute that I had been doing up for ages. After I drank that water within 24 hours I had the whole thing cleaned up and painted. When I started coming down and he said, 'mate do you want a bit more?', I said, 'hell yeah, this stuff is good.'"
At first he thought it made his life better. "I got things done, was good at my job."
Soon he was taking 1g a day in water throughout the day. Within three months he was injecting. In three years he had lost huge amounts of weight, and his job, and had started to do house burglaries to fund his 3g-a-day habit.
He would have regular rages, including attacking a flatmate with a wheelbrace after he had pinched one of his smokes. Malnourished, and injecting in all parts of his body, he had a bleeding, pus-filled infection from a gaping wound in the back of his head. "I didn't even remember how I got it."
He ignored that, but couldn't ignore a letter from his mother who pleaded with him to stop.
"She asked me what had happened to her boy, where had her son gone who used to talk and laugh. I cried solid for two days. I still have that letter, and pull it out now."
He would try to stop using, but would be lured back in by friends.
"It was just everywhere, and that is the problem for kids today ... that it's even more around, so if you do become addicted, it is hard to get off it as it is just all around you."
When his friend's farm was raided by police, and Shane's supply cut off, he "lost the plot" and punched the wall in a P-fuelled rage, breaking every bone in his hand.
"I lied to doctors but my family doctor who had known me since I was 10 wasn't fooled. He put me on these pills. I thought they were for my arm, but they were anti-depressants."
The doctor referred him to Hanmer Clinic for intense therapy but Shane said because it was outpatient, he was still tempted.
"In the end the doctor said to me, there is is no rehab in the Bay so why don't you go to university. It was such an 'out there' thing to say, I thought he had started on the P too. But he told me that they need qualified people who have real understanding of what addicts go through."
In the end, going to university saved Shane, as he started to move in different circles. He shifted back to his parents'.
"To get off P, you need the support of family, change your circle of friends, treatment, but also you have to want to do it ... I was lucky I had my parents, without them I wouldn't be here. Not everyone has that, so that [shows] we really do need a residential place here."
Now 45, Shane is clean, his employer knows his history and he enjoys helping others in the throes of the addiction that took so many years of his own life away. He continues supervision and counselling himself.
"Any former addict can struggle ... if you put it in front of me now, it would be hard."
That is a worry for everyone he says in the Bay where meth is now "easier to score than cannabis, in half an hour, you can get it pretty bloody quick".
As well as his visible scars, Shane has ongoing stomach and liver problems which doctors link to his years of drug use. He suffers from depression, and has never had a long-term relationship.
"Meth is is not a game, this is not Breaking Bad ... this is not a drug you can mess around in thinking it is just fun. It will get you. It will take you down dark places you couldn't even dream existed in your worst nightmares."