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1 NEWS investigation: Stealing from churches, violent robberies as Tonga grapples with how to treat meth addicts

Tonga is in the grips of a devastating methamphetamine epidemic, a 1 NEWS investigation has revealed.

Last night a member of a "P" selling syndicate described a heavily-armed operation which is dealing to every level of society, including children.

Tonight we've learned about the island's critical lack of addiction treatment resources and the challenges of fighting such a widespread crisis.

HIVE OF ACTIVITY

Nuku'alofa's magistrate court is a hive of activity, as since April there's been 96 drug arrests, including five people 1 NEWS filmed who were up on methamphetamine and weapons charges.

A 97th person was arrested early today, Tongan police said. 

"Drugs are coming to Tonga more. So we are committed to do our best to protect the people of Tonga," Chief Superintendent Tevita Vailea of the Tonga Drugs Taskforce told Barbara Dreaver.

But arrest is no guarantee justice will be served.

1 NEWS understands two major suspects have fled Tonga for the US while on bail - one of them is a man who was arrested at Fu'amotu Airport in with nearly two kilos of meth, destined for New Zealand.

You have huge packages of fine mats and tapa being taken overseas. They even get up to stealing from the churches - George Lavaka, News Editor 87.5FM

"We are up against a tidal wave that is coming through," George Lavaka, News Editor for 87.5FM said.

Authorities are struggling to stop the destructive drug from coming into the island nation. Source: 1 NEWS

The broadcaster says the kingdom is being stripped of its valuable fine mats - sold to fund drug addiction.

"You have huge packages of fine mats and tapa being taken overseas. They even get up to stealing from the churches," Mr Lavaka said.

Read more: 1 NEWS exclusive: A look inside one of Tonga’s five major drug syndicates, as P ravages the kingdom

As P takes hold, young addicts, dubbed Ninjas, are jumping people for cash.

But some villagers are fighting back 

"Some are caught, some are beaten up by their own villagers," Mr Lavaka said.

A member of one of the island of Tongatapu's five major syndicates says the demand from village dealers is increasing. 

"With all the places I go, after a day or two they are asking for more," the syndicate member said. 

I am supporting the capital punishment - Dr Mapa Puloka, psychiatrist

Psychiatrist Dr Mapa Puloka runs the psychiatric ward at Vaiola Hospital. It's overwhelmed, with up to 70 per cent of patients addicts. 

In the first of a two-part series, Barbara Dreaver looks at how Tonga’s drug gangs operate, and who they target. Source: 1 NEWS

"One of my patients here told me that he would kill somebody just to get the money to buy the meth. That patient later killed his own brother," Dr Puloka said.

He says Tonga needs new measures to tackle the problem.

"I am supporting the capital punishment. We need to reduce this thing significantly to a level that is acceptable," he said.

Read more: 1 NEWS special report: Tonga's children targeted by meth dealers looking to gain 'a client for life'

Criminals are mixed in with mental health patients at Vaiola Hospital, so there are plans to build a hospital at the prison.

Family members of those involved are desperate.

"There's no support system and so people are lost. And even people who want to be saved can't save themselves," one family member said.

Hopes for NZ aid

The Salvation Army runs the kingdom's only addiction programme. Thirty-six have graduated this year, the youngest 13 years old.

"We are crying for more resources," Captain Sila Siufanga of Salvation Army Tonga said.

Mr Siufanga is visiting Wellington's Salvation Army headquarters which funds the Tongan programme. He's hoping to access New Zealand aid to meet the growing need.

"The seventy-million for the next four years for the Pacific reset projects from the Government - I would love to be a percentage of that," he said.

Sport is one way parents are fighting back.

"With all the problems that are coming to our shores, drugs and all of that, it's just a good spirit of coming together and working together as a team for the players," Salote Sisifa, CEO of the Tonga Netball Association said.

But that's a drop in the meth tidal wave consuming the tiny Pacific nation.

In the first of a two-part series, Barbara Dreaver looked at how Tonga’s drug gangs operate, and who they target

A critical lack of addiction treatment resources is causing problems in the kingdom, Barbara Dreaver discovers. Source: 1 NEWS