Hard News by Russell Brown

On the P

The unpleasant track record of crystal methamphetamine - aka "pure" or "P" - has been extended a little further with the revelation that William Bell, convicted yesterday in connection with the RSA triple murder - was a heavy user, and had binged several hours before he bashed three people to death in the course of a robbery.

The Bell conviction comes on the heels of the arrest of the fallen property developer Mark Lyon (this is a remarkably democratic scourge) and the conviction of Ese Falealii of two cold-blooded murders in the course of robbing a bank and a pizza shop. The criminal courts deal with less newsworthy P-driven crimes every day.

Looked at one way, P is simply part of a classic local tradition of bootleg drug production: home stills, stovetop cannabis oil, homebake heroin. Given the remarkable yield from a packet of over-the-counter cold medication - and a market ready to pay $100 for a tenth of a gram of the product - cooking speed is a no-brainer for organised crime.

Excepting alcohol, which is a factor in more crime and personal tragedy than anything else, P constitutes the worst drug problem I have ever seen in New Zealand. It is becoming pervasive in the North Island. But - and it's surprising how little this is canvassed in the press - the key to P is less what's in the pipe than the fact that there is a pipe at all. The instant hit provided by smoking creates a junkie dynamic that characterises the P problem. They don't call it "Kiwi crack" for nothing.

The local Hell's Angels, whose culture has been fuelled by amphetamine use for a good three decades, recognised this a while back. Possession of a glass pipe is grounds for instant ejection from their circle. If you want to hang with the Angels, you'll take your speed the old-fashioned way: mixed with a little glucose, chopped out and snorted.

I wonder to what extent the mainstreaming of such a dangerous drug has been driven by the obligatory inclusion in news stories of the information that (to quote today's Herald story) P provides "a better and longer rush" and is "a very intense form of methamphetamine".

Sounds great, right? Not really. It's not fun. There's something banal and joyless about P; everything else on a night out (or night in) becomes secondary to the thought of the next pipe. People on P talk a lot of shit - not least when it comes to talking about giving up, which usually lasts about four days, the time it takes for the drug to clear the body. Then they get paranoid. It isn't even remotely glamorous.

Everyone has a P story: a friend gone off the rails. My mates and I have a standing joke whenever somebody in the news comes a cropper, walks out on their family or whatever: "On the P, surely?" Sometimes it actually turns out to be true.

I expect that the P problem will eventually self-correct; it is simply too destructive for it not to. My criminal lawyer friend says his clients, who for a while were turning up in court red-faced and sweaty (P addiction is soooo attractive), are beginning to drag themselves off it.

The same thing happened with that other glass-pipe drug, crack cocaine, in American inner cities in the 1980s (if you can imagine something an order of magnitude worse than P, that's crack). Intriguingly, a major element in rolling back crack was a return to marijuana as a favoured, "approved" street drug. (Check out Michael Bell's brother's concern at his brother rejecting "dak" in the Herald story.)

But let's be realistic. Recreational drugs are not going to go away. The 24-hour Auckland bar and club scene is fuelled by substances that keep the punters awake. In many - most - cases this isn't going to do them any harm (ask a taxi driver whether he prefers drunks or loved-up club kids as passengers). But P isn't "most cases".

Still don't believe me? I quote from the Prince of Partying, Peter Urlich, in this month's Metro: "I'm really worried about people smoking that bloody P - that Pure. I know people who're risking careers and fortunes and people who haven't got two cents to rub together. They're all doing it. It's very dangerous. It makes you very aggressive. You lose touch with reality. You'll do anything to get it. I'll go on record saying I'm not pro or anti drugs. I've used drugs and I've enjoyed drugs. It's a personal choice but I put the boot into that one. I fear it."

Hard News Festive Season Harm Reduction Message: So you want to stay up and party. Well, you can buy something legal: I hear Euphoria (synthetic extract of black pepper) is good. If you absolutely must buy a point (and I am not encouraging you to do so) don't smoke it (still less inject it, unless you fancy the risk of putting toluene or red phosphorous directly into your blood). Mix it with a little glucose, chop it out and snort it. Leave your P-smoking friends to their sorry little world.