Mum's tragedy prompts legal high protest

16:00, Mar 18 2014
HOLE IN HER LIFE: Katie Bayliss holds a photo of her son Russell Harley Pataka, who died suddenly last Monday.

The last words Katie Bayliss spoke to her son Harley Pataka were "I love you".

Harley, 23, died suddenly on Monday, March 10. It was just two days after the final conversation he had with his mother, who now believes synthetic cannabis was to blame for his death.

Bayliss described her son as a "happy, vibrant boy who was always pulling pranks on everyone" but tragically he was found dead behind his old school, leaving a hole in her life.

The loss prompted the Tauranga mother of five to set up a Facebook page called Ban Synthetic Cannabis NZ Wide to protest against legal highs.

"I am concerned primarily for the people I know. My other son's smoking it as well and I'm very, very concerned about him, that was my main motivation to do this," Bayliss said.

She moved from Tauranga to Christchurch last November to work as a painter.


She was in constant contact with Harley when she moved away. But in the week leading up to her son's death, she received phone calls from relatives who were worried about the young man, saying "he needed help".

"He'd only been smoking the synthetic cannabis for like three months but I know my son and I know that he never had any mental health issues or suffered from depression," said Bayliss, who has worked in the mental health sector.

She was aware of Hamilton City Council's hard line on legal high traders, and the Ministry of Health's decision to temporarily ban the licences of six traders in the city.

It was a step in the right direction but she thought legal high dealers could just move to another town to continue operating.

That's why she wanted her fight against legal highs to take a nationwide focus.

On Tuesday, the Ban Synthetic Cannabis NZ Wide page had more than 16,000 likes and many of the comments were from current users who were struggling with the substance.

Bayliss said that during her son's funeral she talked to his friends.

". . . guys I've known since they were in primary school and they told me they'd been smoking it as well and they wanted to get off it and they couldn't - the only way they'd get off it is if it got banned."

"The funeral was packed, hundreds of people were there and even his mates from Christchurch. I didn't have to do a thing - I was surprised," she said.

The Facebook page had recorded high volumes of online traffic and people were private messaging Ms Bayliss about their stories and struggles with addiction to legal highs.

"There are some really sad stories on there from people that are smoking it. That's why a lot of people have been PMing [private messaging] me and I've been posting them anonymously."

Bayliss talks about the pain she feels losing her son and also of the surprise when she learnt how he died.

"He was always so anti-suicide. He thought suicide was a coward's way out."

Bayliss wants to start a petition to ban legal highs and plans to take the document to Parliament.

Supporters of Ban Synthetic Cannabis NZ Wide were also suggesting a national protest against legal highs, possibly to be held on April 5.