Legal high drugs cause 'acute injuries'

TARYN UTIGER
Last updated 05:00 07/04/2014

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The region's top medical expert wants legal highs outlawed.

While the New Plymouth District Council will meet tomorrow night to discuss where legal highs can and cannot be sold, the region's medical officer of health, Jonathan Jarman, believes the only way to eliminate the devastating harm of psychoactive substances is to ban them completely.

Legal highs have been in New Zealand for 10 years and although they can no longer be sold at dairies, convenience stores, bars, bottlestores or supermarkets, there are still five licensed sellers in New Plymouth, four of which are active.

In July, after years of no regulation, the sale of synthetic cannabis and other legal highs was restricted under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013.

It is estimated there were 3000 to 4000 sellers across the country at the time but by July 17 that dropped to 170.

In a report written for the council, Jarman said that despite the new restrictions, Taranaki Base Hospital was still dealing with people suffering the consequences of the drugs.

In January alone, 12 adults were referred to the hospital's drug and alcohol team for rehabilitation, and 102 people over the age of 18 had been referred since October 2012.

Patients who had smoked legal highs arrived at the hospital showing signs of violent behaviour, agitation, hallucinations, psychosis, seizures and acute kidney injuries, he said.

"It is difficult to understand how products that are supposed to have ‘no more than a low risk of harm to individuals who use it' can continue to cause problems in Taranaki," he said.

"It is my opinion that ideally all forms of synthetic cannabinoid products should be prohibited."

In his report, Jarman quoted Dr Leo Schep from the National Poisons Centre.

Schep said synthetic cannabis was more toxic than marijuana and had different side-effects.

He said people used legal highs because they were easy to get, you could buy them from "someone you trust", they were not illegal, and were cheaper and stronger than marijuana.

Jarman said any decision made by the council to limit the places where legal highs could be sold was unlikely to make a big difference to the amount of harm caused by the substances.

Unfortunately, Jarman said, territorial authorities did not have the power to ban the drugs.

Tomorrow the New Plymouth District Council's policy committee will consider a draft policy that could regulate where legal highs can be sold.

The policy, which will be put out for public consultation once it has been considered by the full council later this month, proposes "buffer zones", where the products cannot be sold, around schools, kindergartens, recreational facilities, open spaces and other premises selling psychoactive substances.

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The meeting, which begins at 4.30pm tomorrow at the Civic Centre, is open to the public.

- Taranaki Daily News

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