Legal high nightmare
Hospital visiting hours are turning into a living nightmare for Una Harding.
Her son, Kyle, along with numerous mental health patients at Waitakere Hospital, is hooked on synthetic cannabis. And the problem is getting worse.
The Waitemata District Health Board says it is powerless to stop patients smoking the legal drug and it's causing big problems on the Waiatarau mental health ward.
Ms Harding's family was torn apart after Kyle, now 20, was admitted to the ward three years ago diagnosed with psychosis and showing symptoms of schizophrenia.
Ms Harding says Kyle was just like any teenager before he got hooked on synthetic cannabis which doctors have told her is the main reason for his mental state.
The situation is deteriorating with Kyle shifting in and out of hospital over the past three years, unable to shake the habit.
Ms Harding says patients buy the legal highs from nearby retailers and smoke during regulated break times outside the hospital grounds.
She is pleading with shops to stop selling synthetic cannabis for the sake of making a quick buck.
"It should never have been put on the shelves in the first place," she says.
"It's because of this he's in there. Kyle will never be the same person again."
Ms Harding says the most hurtful part about visiting her son is seeing him under the influence most of the time.
"He hears voices and it's scary. He's tried to give up but it's too easy to keep smoking.
"My greatest fear is he won't survive this," she says.
The Government has made a move on the issue with the Psychoactive Substances Act, which gives temporary status for certain retailers to sell synthetic highs that meet certain criteria.
The application process for interim licences to continue selling synthetic highs is now over and the temporary situation is expected to end before 2014.
Psychoactive products may still be sold providing they have received regulatory approval and the appropriate licences have been obtained.
But many believe it's put a temporary cover on the issue.
A staff nurse at Waiatarua mental health ward fears the situation is so out of control that it's been put in the "too-hard basket" by the board.
"What we staff experience is a lot more than the average person sees or hears about synthetic cannabis.
"It's wreaking havoc here and we don't have any power to stop it."
The board is well aware of the issue and admits its hands are tied until the law changes.
Clinical director for mental health services Dr Murray Patton says they can stop patients using drugs and alcohol on hospital grounds but can't prevent certain patients from leaving on their breaks.
"There is no question that synthetic cannabis is causing harm.
"I would urge the retailer to be responsible and stop selling these products completely."
Peaches and Cream is one retailer that continues to sell synthetic cannabis.
Co-owner John Frew says his company is happy to work with hospitals and other health institutions on the issue but will continue to sell legal highs.
"I do find the issue concerning and if the police or the hospital approached us with photos asking us not to sell to certain people we would comply.
"The fact is it's legal and I don't know if synthetic cannabis is dangerous or not.
"But it's like alcohol, everything needs to be taken in moderation," he says.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Alcohol Drug Helpline service on 0800 787 797 to speak with a trained counsellor. You can also visit the Alcohol and Drug Association of New Zealand website at adanz.org.nz for a directory of local health services.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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