A Waikato farming couple say new laws around the sale and supply of synthetic drugs cannot come soon enough after having their family ripped apart by "legal highs".
The couple, who asked not to be named, say their 22-year-old son has become addicted to synthetic cannabis after being introduced to it by his former girlfriend while volunteering at the SPCA.
"He is so desperate he stole all of my wedding rings and sold them for $91 to a gold buyer in Chartwell," his mother said. He has also stolen his father's iPhone and sister's PlayStation, among several other items, to pay for his addiction.
Rather than press charges against their son, who suffers from anxiety and depression, the couple enrolled him in a drug rehabilitation programme at Odyssey House in Auckland, where he remains on a waiting list for help.
"If he doesn't go, we'll be forced to press charges, but we don't want him to have a criminal record. We want our son back - the one who never stole, lied or threatened suicide," his mother said, weeping.
It is a familiar story for New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell, who is eagerly awaiting new laws to replace the current rules that date back to 1975.
"The current laws can't cope with this phenomenon of legal highs," Mr Bell said. "We are seeing these sorts of stories reported in the media, but it's difficult to gauge the full extent of the problems because we have no idea what we are dealing with."
Mr Bell said the only reason synthetic drugs were able to be sold was due to "glaring loopholes" in the current law.
"Until the Government evaluates the level of harm and decides whether it should be a scheduled substance, then these substances can be sold with absolutely no controls over them."
Mr Bell commended the steps taken by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne to review the outdated drug laws, which he said would put New Zealand at the forefront of international drug reforms.
"The Government is committed to modernising the drug laws around these new products and saying to retailers and manufacturers, ‘Right, it's now up to you to prove it's safe - and if you are able to prove it, then it will be sold under very tight controls'. That's world class thinking," Mr Bell said.
The Times went to the Knighton Rd Dairy yesterday, where the 22-year-old has been buying his legal highs. When asked about synthetic cannabis, a shop assistant produced a range of products from below the counter with more than a dozen options for purchase at either $19 a packet or two for $35.
Mr Dunne has called for communities to name, shame and boycott businesses that prey on young people with unethical marketing of legal highs. "In six months this will be sorted with law that will make the industry prove its products are safe before they can be sold, and will put restrictions on how and where they can be sold," Mr Dunne said.
It cannot come soon enough for the Waikato parents, who have spent three months on "tenterhooks" not knowing what their "wired" son will do next.
"His driving is erratic, his moods are unbelievable - he even broke his hand smashing the dash in his car when he was unable to get money for more," his mother said. "He is my son. He's a good boy, but this has to stop. There is nothing legal about those products - they are evil, they are breaking families apart and someone has to do something."
For further information go online to drughelp.org.nz or contact the free alcohol and drug helpline on 0800 787 797.
- Waikato Times