Mātai News

Tuta's tireless advocacy to create a Meth Free Tairāwhiti lives on

The Gisborne Herald, 7 February 2024

The late Tuta Ngarimu was committed to ridding the region of methamphetamine and that mission continues through two organisations he worked tirelessly for — The P Pull Movement and Manaaki Moves Trust.

Gone but far from forgotten, the mahi of Meth Free Tairāwhiti’s late coordinator is continuing through collaborators and friends. 


After relentlessly committed coordinator Tuta Ngarimu died late last year, “Meth Free Tairāwhiti” billboards still paint the streets of Gisborne.


“The catchy phrase and the bright and bold colours . . . he wanted to normalise people in our community talking about it,” Manaaki Moves Trust co-founder Deanna Puhipuhi said.


“There’s so much stigma around addictions. He taught me, ‘yes meth is harmful, but what’s worse is isolation. It makes people do it more’.


“They’re reluctant to go to their marae or local clinics to get help. We want to bring understanding; we want to remove judgement.”


Mr Ngarimu’s campaign now rests with the trust.


“The next part is top-secret,” Ms Puhipuhi, jokes.  


“It’s going to honour Tuta. A lot of people who knew him, knew him well. We’re going to use specific words and images so that when people see it, straight away they know it’s him.”


“Tuta was my right-hand man”, says NZ P Pull Movement national coordinator Rowena Wiki, who lives in Wellington and is driving the winding road to Gisborne to continue Mr Ngarimu’s work.


“The man’s irreplaceable,” said Ms Puhipuhi. “Once I wrapped my head around every project he was involved in, I was like OMG, how can this be just one person?


“Tuta was the king of networking and starting initiatives. He collaborated for all the right reasons.”


Mr Ngarimu was all too familiar with  the road to addiction and worked tirelessly to reduce the violence and social deprivation that plagues his community.


He connected with all walks of life — from social workers to the Mongrel Mob of which he was a life member. He knew the importance of connection and helped those at risk of repeating his past.


Meth costs $820 million in social harm, according to research by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health. Tairāwhiti has one of the highest usage rates, as evidenced by wastewater testing.


Before Mr Ngarimu’s passing, he set up a collaboration with Gisborne-based Mātai Medical Research Institute to map the effects of meth on the brain and heart.


The study performed a dual purpose. Not only did it give participants a reason to remain abstinent, it also presented participants with key information.


“In a couple of cases we’ve seen there has been a significant finding, which we have passed on to cardiology,” researcher Paul Condron says.


The studies are in early number-crunching days, but Mr Condron says they do see recovery with abstinence.


“Isolation is one of the critical aspects of people not being able to perform abstinence. Tuta wanted to understand why people start using it in the first place.


“We’ve had this war on drugs for decades, but it’s not working. Go down any street in Gisborne and you can find illegal drugs . . . Tuta wanted to find the root cause.


“If we get rid of the demand, the supply will dry up.”


Ms Puhipuhi hopes to spark more korero about the issue.


“Our next campaign will hopefully cover the entire Coast, as far as Wairoa and perhaps further. As far as our funding allows.  We want to inspire other regions”.


Mr Condron says the meth recovery research would be “an ongoing project so long as there is a problem”.


“We want to help solve and address the meth epidemic in New Zealand”.