Services expect flood of addicts
A surge of legal high users seeking help from MidCentral Health could hit mental health and addiction services next month as the legal weed mop-up continues.
About one in four new referrals to MidCentral mental health services between March and June had a history of using legal highs. A spike in self-referrals to alcohol and drug services, including the Youth One Stop Shop, was also reported.
MidCentral clinical director mental health Jerry Varghese said the "one in four" presentations could have been in a grossly psychotic state as a result of using synthetic cannabis.
"In the month of June, out of 46 new referrals to mental health, there were 10 who reported legal highs," he said. "Addiction services' numbers are slightly higher than that."
Mr Varghese said since the Psychoactive Substances Act was passed mental health and addiction services had been waiting for a surge of new referrals.
"Now the product is restricted you would expect to see it more difficult for users to access, therefore there is a higher chance of them experiencing withdrawal symptoms and a level of discomfort associated with not having access to something they have developed dependence for," he said.
"This is expected to produce a spike in referrals to the Alcohol and Other Drugs service because those people can't manage the withdrawals symptoms and want help to address it.
"Since July 15 we haven't seen that expected exponential spike and the possible explanation for that is it usually takes between two and three weeks for the distress to manifest itself to the level users feel they need help."
Mr Varghese said a good amount of users would be able to kick the habit with just family support.
"For those who are more severely affected, either they have stocked up before the sales stopped or alternatively it hasn't reached a point where the expected spike has been noticed," he said. "I would anticipate an increase could be seen in August."
Mr Varghese said addiction services were being offered through the Youth One Stop Shop and the numbers of young people seeking help would be higher than adults.
"When available, all ages used it, that's the reality," he said. "With youth the sense of drug vulnerability and brain sensitivity to drug dependence is higher, therefore the consequences tend to be higher.
"The distinct difference between the youth population and older users is that the [frequency] of experimentation, or new use, will be higher - therefore the experience of withdrawal and distress will be higher for youth."