The plight of a 17-year-old girl in Snells Beach, who took her own life because of her mother’s addiction to methamphetamines, has inspired a locally made film to inform New Zealand school students of the consequences of drug addiction.
Former Warkworth Police sergeant Bede Haughey says he investigated many suicides during his career, but says “that one really got to me”.
In the girl’s suicide note, she wrote that she could no longer live with the effects that meth was having on her family, though she was not a user of the drug herself.
Sometime later, the mother was arrested in connection with another case where a young woman almost died after being severely beaten, tied up and dumped on a remote road in the Dome Valley. The mother ended up receiving a long prison sentence for her involvement.
Mr Haughey wrote about the case in a column in Mahurangi Matters in July 2017. Commenting on the mother’s addiction he wrote: “That’s the thing about meth – it has the ability to turn people ugly and it has no respect for location or gender or race or age.”
In the same article, Mr Haughey appealed for funds to make a film that would encourage young people to say “no” to meth.
Mr Haughey subsequently left the police, following allegations that he had been responsible for a “negative culture” at Warkworth police – allegations which Mahurangi Matters was able to show were groundless in a story in June this year. But he continued to work on the film in association with Springboard Community Works. It was completed last month and shown at Springboard’s annual fundraising dinner on November 29.
Mr Haughey’s vision was that the film would feature local people, as he felt similar films from the United States failed to connect with NZ audiences.
Accordingly, the new film – tentatively titled Not Even Once – features the stories of four Mahurangi young people and their experiences with meth.
One of them is Dan Waitoa, 29, who was kicked out of Mahurangi College at age 14 and wrestled with meth addiction throughout most of his twenties.
Mr Waitoa says the drug all but destroyed his life.
“The drug was more important than my family – my kids and my partner. I would not care if they were hungry. All that mattered was getting high.”
In the film, an actor playing the part of Mr Waitoa is shown having a violent argument with his partner, blaming her for the lack of money, which he has squandered. Crockery is smashed and Mr Waitoa storms out. A baby in a bouncer watches as Mr Waitoa’s partner breaks down and cries.
Ironically, it was the unstinting support of his partner that allowed Mr Waitoa to kick the habit. He now works as a mentor at Springboard.
Mr Waitoa hopes the film will destroy myths about drugs created by gangs, rap culture and some media.
“It’s made to look cool – showing people with lots of drugs and lots of money. But there is nothing cool about it. What you don’t see is the unhappy people sitting in a corner, freaking out and dying because they suddenly can’t find any more drugs,” he says.
The film is directed by Craig Henderson, of Snells Beach, and made by independent film production company Symphony, and is less than four minutes long.
The idea is that it won’t be shown in isolation, but act as a conversation starter for broader classroom discussion. It is aimed primarily at Year 9 to Year 11 students, so that they are prepared when they encounter meth later in life.
It will be shown first in Mahurangi schools and then it is anticipated that it will be picked up and used nationally.
Mr Haughey says when the film was first conceived, he expected it might require only some slick editing of Handycam footage, but the project turned into something much bigger.
“When we realised it would likely have national significance, we wanted to make sure it was professionally done,” he says.