Spike in synthetic high patients

There has been an increase in the number of people showing up at Wairau and Nelson hospital emergency departments showing withdrawal symptoms from synthetic highs since a ban on the drugs was introduced earlier this month.

A board meeting of Nelson Marlborough District Health Board this week heard there had been anecdotal evidence of more presentations from patients showing symptoms linked to the banned drugs.

Nursing director Robyn Henderson said there had been a number of presentations at EDs.

Chief medical officer Nick Baker said the mental health team had also seen increasing numbers of people requiring counselling.

The exact numbers were not available to the board. The Marlborough Express has requested these figures.

Parliament passed a law under urgency banning the products. Health Minister Tony Ryall introduced the Psychoactive Substances Amendment Bill, which banned 41 products given interim approval under legislation passed last year.

The government ban had sparked concern it would put pressure on drug and alcohol resources in Marlborough.

Board chief executive Chris Fleming said the spike was not to the extent that would create a challenge to the board.

Board member and Marlborough District councillor Jessica Bagge said she would be interested to see the figures of the number of users turning up at the board's hospitals and their demographic.

"Legal highs were so accessible," Bagge said.

"It wasn't just young people who wanted to experiment - I know business people and blue collar workers who used the drug because it was legal and it was seen as safe."

Marlborough Drug Arm chairman Roy Ramsey said he was heartened to hear users were getting medical attention.

"I commend these people for seeking help rather than trying to self-medicate with cannabis. It is heartening and I hope it continues. If there had been no increase it would have been a case that users were on the same old path of substance abuse."

Hardened users would not seek help and would buy drugs underground from gangs if they could afford it or try and manage their symptoms with cannabis, Ramsey said. The ban had not dealt with the underlying problems which caused people to use drugs.

"There is the physical addiction and the mental addiction. Some turn to synthetic drugs as a coping mechanism because they can't cope with everyday life or they suffer from depression. Most people doing drugs are covering up the garbage in their lives that they don't have to deal with."