The NZ ’P’ Pull movement began four years ago when a 24-year-old mother walked into Wesley Community Action in Waitangirua, Porirua, experiencing a methinduced psychotic episode. She needed help. None was available. So manager, Lizzie McMillan-Makalio, realised there needed to be accessible help. This was the catalyst for the first NZ ‘P’ Pull sessions. These walk-ins, as they are called, are run by volunteers, all with a lived experience of methamphetamine.

NZ ‘P’ Pull is now in 14 locations across Aotearoa. The vision is to empower individuals, whānau and communities to better understand and respond to issues related to use of methamphetamine and ‘P’ Pull.

A MoU between the community-based organisation and Wesley Community Action provides the movement with support. Management is provided by a committee. Most are leaders in the Porirua network with some coming from other networks around the country. The committee provides operational and social support for all networks.

If it is available, each network has a local health practitioner who can provide medical services.

There are now 20 facilitators: some are users, others are whānau, and some are in recovery. All have received training in Auckland at M.E.S.S (Meth Education and Solution Services) run by Peter Thorburn, who is himself a recovered addict.

Christine Remuera, who is the National Coordinator, says that the network of free walk-in meetings is growing all the time:

“Anyone affected can come and talk about what they are going through. It works because they are listened to and we don’t judge people. We provide users and whānau with the tools, they need. We use Te Whare Tapa Wha, so we work on spiritual, physical, mental and whānau well-being.”

Whānau are taught communication skills such as how to listen, and how to speak using language that de-escalates arguments and calms people down.

They learn how to stop enabling users – to set boundaries. Many of Christine’s whānau have been users, and she says that for her the process was tough: “When you set down rules for loved ones, especially if they are your children, it is hard. You are having to go against all your instincts.

Enabling is about getting whānau to stop giving money, even though they are crying for it for food. Setting boundaries is about creating a safe space for everyone – for the whānau in their own homes.”

They learn how to give people the space to come up with their own solutions – and then support them to make and achieve their recovery plan.

Workshops and training seminars provide facilitators with an understanding of the different kinds of trauma that usually lead to addiction. Most of those coming to walk-ins, says Christine, have experienced trauma such as domestic violence and sexual or physical abuse. As a result, they are often depressed or anxious.

Gambling may have become an issue. So the plan is likely to involve referrals to other agencies that have the skills and knowledge to support their recovery.

Because many rangatahi who have grown up in households affected by meth are at risk of suicide, all facilitators attend workshops on suicide prevention.

As well as learning new skills, those who come to the walk ins are given help with practical matters like getting onto a sickness benefit or into housing. Māori plant-based medicine is available to those who want it.

A closed interactive Facebook page with 8000 members (and growing) is another way people can come to understand addiction, share experiences and learn together. The online support is a good option for those who find the use of methamphetamine is stigmatizing and for those living in isolated areas. It is even more popular with those in recovery, who regularly celebrate their clean milestones.

NZ ‘P’ Pull also has a hugely popular book, Methy Business, which is updated every two years. It has stories about what people have been through, their solutions, and their road to recovery.

Tuta Ngarimu is a facilitator for NZ ‘P’ Pull in four locations in Tairawhiti, and he says that the single most important thing that the walk-ins do is put whānau in touch with each other:

“At one walk-in three nannies, women in their 70s and 80s came. They didn’t know each other, but their stories were exactly the same. They were so grateful to talk with one another – it takes away a lot of the loneliness of dealing with it.

“Over the years we have managed to put people into residential care, so we have built a pathway for them to make that happen. You know there are a lot of barriers out there for whānau when reaching out for help. The Police can get involved. Oranga Tamariki can take their children away. And another barrier for people in Gisborne is that they have to travel out of the area to get residential care. Tairawhiti has one of the highest rates of meth addiction in the country. Māori are the most affected here in Tairawhiti. We desperately need a residential care unit here that reflects that – one with a strong tikanga Māori component. I get sick of telling the media about our methamphetamine problems. Nothing ever happens. NZ ’P’ Pull is the community response and it definitely helps, but we need a government response too.”

There is in fact evidence that the community response is highly valued. A July 2019 evaluation of NZ ‘P’ Pull by Matua Raki, National Addiction Workforce Development, found that Porirua walk-in sessions were rated 9.6 out of 10. The evaluation also found that the movement has helped to normalise talk about problematic methamphetamine use. It has opened-up conversation across the city. Wesley Community Action’s Centre of Innovation Te Hiko has recently employed a person skilled in social impact assessment to measure what has changed as a result of community-led movements.

The move is part of the organisation’s national advocacy for a better funding system.

David Hanna, Wesley Community Action’s Director says that rather than relying on Wellington-formulated policy to address social issues, we need to recognise that some powerful solutions bubble up from the community:

“There’s a whole lot of capability in the community and we need to be able to support these initiatives. ‘P’ Pull is a tremendously powerful and effective movement, yet it only recently received funding via the Ministry for Justice, Proceeds of Crime fund. We got three years of decent funding so the movement could have a paid national coordinator – Christine. There is a need for a lot more recognition of the role of local flax roots community initiatives rather than trying to force everything into a professionalised service delivery slot.

“Covid is magnifying inequality. Most of our work at Wesley Community Action is dealing with people at the hard end of the inequality reality. People are facing multiple challenges and stresses. We need to be more intentional in providing the right infrastructure and support that will allow these locally-led initiatives to develop and grow.”