Meth use on rise after legal high ban

Former methamphetamine addicts in Palmerston North have gone back to using the drug since synthetic highs were made illegal, a Manawatu addiction service says.

MidCentral District Health Board's alcohol and other drug addiction (AOD) service reported an increase in people presenting with problematic methamphetamine and cannabis use since synthetic cannabis became illegal in May.

Mental health service clinical director Dr Syed Ahmer said staff had seen an increase in use of the drug, particularly when people were also using other substances.

"People who have used methamphetamine in the past are now going back to using it after the legal highs came off the market," he said.

"What we are seeing is just the people presenting here, so it wouldn't be an accurate reflection of the problem in the community."

There had been 24 presentations for pure methamphetamine use since legal highs were banned but that number was for P use only and didn't account for people using it alongside other substances, he said.

"Not everything gets recorded separately. It's more our clinical impression that we're seeing more," he said.

"If they use it sporadically and they come here, they're maybe using something else as a primary drug and using methamphetamine along with it. As a pure problem it's not as frequent."

Ahmer said presentations to the service for synthetic highs were low since the substances were made illegal.

Palmerston North Detective Sergeant Dave Thompson said police had been prosecuting more people in Manawatu for supplying and importing methamphetamine, but it was hard to gauge usage.

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"It's fair to say the world is getting smaller [through] the ability to be in contact directly with suppliers across the other side of the world, which has certainly got a lot easier with the likes of [online black market] Silk Road," he said.

"As a result, persons that previously you wouldn't even be looking at being involved in drug distribution and specifically methamphetamine seem to be [involved]."

Thompson said it was hard to gauge whether methamphetamine use had gone up because "people don't tend to tell us the truth a lot of the time".

"Methamphetamine availability certainly fluctuates, and quite quickly, but in recent times there seems to be a greater availability and whether that is because of the ability to source it direct from overseas I don't know, but it could be why."

Mash Trust mental health and addictions service manager Rodger McLeod said while the number of presentations for methamphetamine was lower than for other substances, there were constant cases.

"We always see occasional methamphetamine presentations but certainly cannabis and alcohol remain the highest," he said.

McLeod said P users often had more complex issues, so those cases were more likely to be managed by specialist services rather than non-government organisations such as the Mash Trust.

Ahmer said the most common presenting problem at the AOD service was alcohol addiction.

Alcohol and opioids created the most physical dependence.

"If somebody stops alcohol they can have seizures, they can even die.

"If somebody stops cannabis or methamphetamine they might have some physical flu-like symptoms but it's more psychological withdrawal, it's psychologically addictive," Ahmer said.

 - Manawatu Standard

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