Ian Collingwood, a self-proclaimed drug addict. He started using hard drugs at 16 through peer pressure, to impress a girl. Photograph: Rob Rickman/The Guardian
Collingwood says that with the drugs has come terrible, terrible violence.
Like in any country, at the top of the food chain, drug dealers here are dangerous men, very very bad, phenomenally bad, he says.
Theyll have you kidnapped and dropped off in the bush somewhere, theyll smash your kneecaps or worse, youll get acid poured on your face, youll get killed. Thats a phenomenon which is recent. In the last 12 to 24 months, Id suggest thered be up to six, seven, eight deaths at least through this stuff.
It is a problem these Pacific nations are ill-equipped to handle.
There is no data collected in Fiji about drug use or addiction. There is no rehab centre in Fiji, no methadone clinic, no addiction health specialists, not even a Narcotics Anonymous meeting to be found. Collingwood says there is also no understanding of addiction as an illness.
If addicts want or need treatment, they end up at St Giles, the psychiatric hospital in Suva, which reported that nearly 20% of its patients in the year from May 2017 to April 2018 were treated for substance abuse issues, mostly for addiction to methamphetamines.
No one has recovered here, theres no such thing, Collingwood says. I know heaps of people here who want to do it, they just dont know what to do.
The genie is out of the bottle
One wall of the Oceania Customs Organisation office in downtown Suva is taken up by a huge colourful map of the Pacific, from Australia and Palau in the west through to French Polynesia in the east. Tevita Tupou walks over to it to show the extent of the challenge facing law enforcement through the region, whom he says are engaged in a David and Goliath battle against a creative, well-funded, constantly innovating criminal enemy.
Tevita Tupou, from the Oceania Customs Organisation, in front of a Pacific region map. Photograph: Rob Rickman/The Guardian
We cover one-third of the worlds mass, he says, waving toward the map. Tupou checks off challenges on his fingers. Porous borders, maritime borders, geographical spread, limited resources. Thats our operating environment. He laughs. Where do you start?
This is probably the fight of our generation, we lose this now, we are gone, Tupou says.
Tupou believes Fiji and its Pacific neighbours can never return to a time before hard drugs were a domestic problem. The genie is out of the bottle.
You cannot eradicate the issue of drugs, because there will always be a demand, theres always money to be made out of it, but we can make it hard for them, he says. Thats our endgame the only thing we can do is just make crime random.