Groups rally against legal highs 'crisis'

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:58 07/04/2014
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MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

MOTHERS IN ARMS: Tania Fowler, left, and Kristyn Musson joined the anti-legal high protest in Richmond.

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Momentum is growing among groups of people staunchly opposed to the availability of synthetic recreational drugs because of what they say is a worsening crisis among users.

Protesters in Nelson City and Richmond joined others in 22 locations around the country on Saturday to shout their opposition to the Government's current legislation around the sale of the substances, and to ask local councils to make a stronger call for a ban on the products in their communities.

Five retailers in the Nelson region have licences to sell legal highs. There are now 42 legal high products sold in New Zealand under interim licences.

Saturday's Richmond protest from Sundial Square was followed by a short march up Queen St to the location outside a store selling the products.

Demonstrators also gathered in Trafalgar St and collected signatures for a nationwide petition calling for the ban of legal high substances.

Many Richmond shoppers eagerly added their name, and a few driving at the time stopped their cars and got out to sign the petition.

Tania Fowler, of Motueka, who joined the Richmond demonstration, said her protest was simple: "People are dying from using synthetic cannabis.

"For many people it's only a week or two before you're in a situation of extreme addiction. We are finding that more and more people can't walk away from it."

Fowler's son was one of them.

"It's horrible. That's the reality," she said.

Protest co-ordinator in Richmond, Shawnee Young, who has used synthetic drugs, said earlier generations of the products seemed OK, but today's products were far more potent. "They're mind-altering and the buzz is scary. You vomit straight away; people pass out. These drugs are causing brain damage in people and they're also leading to people committing suicide.

"There are hundreds of people with horror stories about them."

Young described the drugs as "way worse than marijuana" and that it was not just teens using them but middle-aged and older people also. Fowler said synthetic drugs were "way more addictive" than anything she had seen, and that someone driving a car on the sort of high they created was "so much more dangerous".

Richmond sawmill business owner Brent Curtis who signed the petition on Saturday said he was now afraid to employ younger people because so many were using legal highs.

"I've had workers on it who come to work wasted after the weekend. There are so many on the stuff because it's legal.

"If they smoke dope or drink they can usually still cope after the weekend but with this stuff they're on it all night long."

Some parents had seen their children down to hourly gaps between hits, because the effects wore off quickly.

One mother at Richmond's protest was there with her 20-year-old daughter who was struggling to emerge from the effects of synthetic drugs. The mother said her bright and happy daughter had resorted to stealing to support an expensive habit.

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"Her blood tests came back showing she had synthetic heroin in her system.

"She was medicated to get her off them, and now she's on anti-epilepsy pills and medication to keep her calm."

The mother said part of the problem was that too often people were too scared to get help.

"There are a lot of people making a lot of money from these drugs - the makers, the importers, the sellers and the Government [through GST]. "It is horrific."

The daughter said her involvement on Saturday was worth it, even if she could save one life.

Kristyn Musson said she took part in the protest to try to deter her children from using legal highs.

"I can see what it's doing. Families are breaking up and the people using these things become violent, but this is more about protecting our children rather than putting down users," Musson said.

Those who wish to report potential breaches of the legislation can report them directly to the Psychoactive Substances webpage, or by calling Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.

- Nelson

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