Charismatic' woman kept meth use secret
When her life ended at the age of 39 – her body discovered face down in her bedroom with methamphetamine in her blood – those who knew Lisa McMillan struggled to believe it.
"I was totally surprised and remain very surprised that that is the outcome," said Ralph Stewart, former boss of AXA New Zealand, the insurance company where she worked. "It's a terrible, terrible thing that we lost her ... we were all very shocked and saddened to lose Lisa."
Her family did not know she took drugs. Her work colleagues were aghast. The police were mystified; an investigation into where she could have sourced the methamphetamine that led to her death went nowhere.
On the morning of Thursday, January 21, 2010, Ms McMillan's work colleagues at AXA in Wellington became worried when their manager did not show up to work. The lead underwriter for the insurance business, Ms McMillan was highly respected, a team player who was caring and easy to like.
Not turning up was out of character. Her colleagues rang her brother, who went to her house. He found her dead on the bedroom floor of her Lower Hutt home.
An initial autopsy found she had died of a brain haemorrhage. Forensic psychologist John Rutherford said he would wait for the toxicology report, to see if there was anything that could have raised her blood pressure.
To the knowledge of her fiance, family, friends and colleagues, Ms McMillan did not take illegal drugs. In hindsight, her brother and fiance recalled that she had been taking an excessive amount of Panadol in the months before her death, which they thought was for headaches.
So when methamphetamine, or P, was found in her blood at the level of 0.24 milligrams per litre, it came as a surprise.
That level is consistent with recreational use. The level associated with fatal overdose starts from 0.5.
However, Dr Rutherford concluded that the relatively high level of meth in her system was likely to have raised her blood pressure and caused the haemorrhage.
Ms McMillan had no children. She was engaged to her partner of 16 years, and the pair were planning to travel.
Although I never met Lisa McMillan I viewed her as a valued contact and a friend. Soon after she joined AXA she became the processing and contact for the New Business I submitted in my role as an AXA Adviser. This meant that over the course of a year or perhaps 18 months I spoke to her one the phone two or three times a week and sometimes every day. We developed a good rapport and working relationship and Lisa was the most efficient and reliable person in that role in the 23 years that I worked with the company.
The trust that we developed was such that when her internal staff assessment was due she asked me if I would write a reference for her as part of her review. It was soon after that she received a promotion and our regular contact dwindled to occasional although I did still make a point of catching up from time to time.
As we were overseas in 2010 this article is the first I heard of her death and I must say it was a shock for a couple of reasons. Firstly the fact that she had died at age 39 and secondly that she led an almost secret life in that neither her family or work colleagues knew of her use of P.
Stuff go on.
METH USERS FROM 'ALL WALKS OF LIFE'
Methamphetamine overdoses are rare, and Lisa McMillan would be one of a handful of people to die from it in New Zealand, according to Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell.
He said it was not a surprise that someone of her age and social status could be taking P without anyone noticing. "We know that meth is used by people from all walks of life. Often people who use it don't show any obvious signs, until it becomes a dependency.
"Initially, someone using recreationally is going to be a high-performer – it's a stimulant drug, so it allows people to work hard and play hard.
"If you were the boss of someone who was a recreational meth user, you would say, `How are they able to do six days' work in a couple of days?"'
The stereotype of a psychotic and violent P-user couldn't be further from the truth, he said. The latest Health Ministry survey showed 285,000 Kiwis had used a stimulant drug like methamphetamine. "Lots of people were surprised when Millie Holmes got busted for meth use, but she is relatively typical of someone who is a meth user.
"People use drugs because of the effects, and initially the effects are very positive."
The latest drug trend study led by Chris Wilkins of Massey University found that availability of P remained high, despite increased police pressure on the drug market.
The 2010 Illicit Drug Monitoring System interviewed a total of 411 frequent illegal drug users from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
It found 86 per per cent of the frequent users had bought methamphetamine from a private house, 39 per cent from an agreed public location, and 13 per cent had visited a "tinny house".
They all reported it was "easy" or "very easy" to source. Dr Wilkins said P was typically smoked through a glass pipe, with very few users injecting it.'
The loss of Lisa McMillan is a tragedy. I know she was highly regarded by her workmates and I will remember her as one of the most efficient, if not the most efficient, and capable people I worked with during my association with AXA as well as being personable and a people person. Sadly missed..
Her death should be a further warning of the dangers of P and a reason not to legalise Cannibis use.