Speaker by Various Artists

Who's down with O.P.P ?

by Peter McLennan

It's three o'clock in the morning and the music has just died. I'm standing behind the turntables at the Leigh Sawmill Cafe twiddling knobs for the Bassteppa sound system while DJ Big Matt winds up the evening. It's been a long day but because this is a winter solstice party, it was also the shortest of the year. The room is full of funky rural types who've been dancing up a storm, especially the young gentleman in hip hop attire sidling up behind a number of the women and doing a tacky uninvited bump'n'grind routine. He's friendly enough, though, and keeps coming up to the DJ and shouting somethng about "mad crazy tunes, bro!" There's talk of an after-party at someone's place up the road but I'm heading for sleep. The luxurious DJ accommodation is a dishevelled caravan in the middle of the cabbage patch out the back. The after-party goes until 6 a.m. or so. The host was dancing and smoking P in front of the DJs' setup. Freaky.

What is it with this P epidemic? Just how bad is it? There's Pita Sharples on TV holding information sessions for local urban communities talking about three 14-year old girls, who told him they were prostituting themselves to pay for P, and of a 9-year old found with gear for snorting the drug in his lunchbox. Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey is talking about P, as is Hayley Westenra. Her new album is called Pure, though that's just an unhappy coincidence. When she talks about Coke, she means the bubbly soft drink.

A mate of mine who does some work in Mt Eden Prison told me there's a P epidemic inside. P, a highly addictive form of methamphetamine, is a strange drug of choice for someone who's locked up. Why would you want to stay wide awake for as long as possible in prison?

A discussion on the biggie.co.nz forum concerned whether or not P use in the dance scene was exclusive to NZ. Responses suggest that the amphetamine is not widely used in the UK dance scene where pills are cheap (about £1.70) and coke sells for £30-50 per gram. An Australian posting to the bulletin board says "the only peeps that use it are junkies, bikers and truck drivers." A Kiwi tells how friends of his who are businessmen, builders and executives got together recently for a catch-up; out of 12 of them at dinner, eight were on P. And this was on a Tuesday night. One of his friends who was building a house spent $15,000 on the drug over a six-week period.

The government started moves to reclassify methamphetamine from a Class B drug to Class A in December. Police closed down 151 methamphetamine labs in 2002 compared with 41 in 2001 and expect this year's figures to double again. P has been linked with several high-profile violent crimes including the RSA murders.

In late May Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton introduced the government's Methamphetamine Action Plan. The MP met with Coolio while the rapper was visiting Aotearoa and says he found it "extraordinary how honest [Coolio] was about all this substance abuse and hard drugs." In the rap game, Jim, that's what they call keeping it real.

Meanwhile in a former sawmill on the coast north of Auckland, a bunch of friendly locals dance through the night. From the wicked dubwise sounds of International Observer to The Chaplin and Big Matt's splendid vinyl selections, it's been a good party. And now I'm off to sleep in a caravan in a cabbage patch.