Two West Auckland police officers have taken a food-themed approach to teaching youngsters in their patch about the dangers of synthetic drugs.

And the message - told with the help of a good old Kiwi pie - seems to be getting through.

At least 20 people have died this year as a result of using synthetic drugs, many of them in the West Auckland area.

The huge spike in fatalities prompted the Chief Coroner to issue a public warning about the drugs, known to many users as "synnies".

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Police in West Auckland are pushing that message to their young people, and have found an innovative approach to make it loud and clear.

Constables Dermot Forde (left) and Reuben Jakich are trying to teach youths about the dangers of synthetic drugs. Photo / Police Ten One
Constables Dermot Forde (left) and Reuben Jakich are trying to teach youths about the dangers of synthetic drugs. Photo / Police Ten One

Constable Dermot Forde of the Henderson Neighbourhood Policing Team and Youth Aid Constable Reuben Jakich have teamed up to talk to teenagers at Alternative Education centres.

In their presentation they give an audience member a pie - then take it back, spray it with acetone and other nasty chemicals and offer it again to their volunteer.

"We say 'who's hungry now?'" Forde told police magazine Ten One.

"They'll say 'are you trying to poison us?' We tell them 'well, boys and girls, that's what you've been smoking'."

Forde said West Auckland was "disproportionately affected" by synthetics use.

On September 15 the Herald spoke to the parents of Calum Jones, a 22-year-old father-of-one who died in his Henderson home after using synthetics.

A week later we revealed that Marilyn Makikiriti died just two weeks after giving birth, likely as a result of using synthetic drugs.

Two days later her cousin Junior Taneao died in similar circumstances.

Makikiriti's brother has been charged with supplying both victims with the fatal doses.

All three deaths are before the Coroner.

Calum Jones died after using synthetic drugs. His parents shared his story in a bid to save other lives. Photo / Supplied
Calum Jones died after using synthetic drugs. His parents shared his story in a bid to save other lives. Photo / Supplied

Police are now battling to get the drugs - and the people making and selling them - off the streets.

"We're coming across 12 and 13-year-olds smoking synthetics and I thought I'd go straight to where these kids come from," Forde told Ten One.

He and Jakich have given presentations at five West Auckland alternative education centres and one on the North Shore.

They said the centres were "tough audiences" made up of youngsters excluded from mainstream education, with many facing criminal charges.

They keep the presentation short and believe it's having a good impact.

"It's quick and sharp - 15 to 20 minutes, not death by Powerpoint," Jakich said.

"In the first presentation I went to I talked about pies.

"In a shop you see pies labelled 'steak' or 'chicken' - if one was labelled 'unknown ingredients and might kill you', would you eat that?

"After that we decided to use an actual pie."

A huge amount of synthetic drugs seized by police in the Waitemata District recently. Photo / Supplied
A huge amount of synthetic drugs seized by police in the Waitemata District recently. Photo / Supplied

Waitakere Area Manager Community and Youth Senior Sergeant Richard Thompson said Forde and Jakich had "broken the ice" with youngsters in advance of a planned long-term campaign on synthetics.

"What they have achieved is considerable," he said.

"The feedback has been genuinely positive and this group of kids are a tough crowd.

"They've created an opportunity to reach people who could be some of the most at-risk in a quick and efficient way, and to build on the conversations they've had."

Thompson applauded the non-traditional way the officers were appealing to young people.

"Giving staff the freedom to develop their own ways to achieve police's big-picture aims is an important part of what the Police High Performance Framework is about," he said.

"I'm a big fan."

What are synthetic drugs?

Smokeable products containing varieties of plant matter that have been infused with synthetic cannabinomimetic substances.

Examples include the brand Kronic.

They act in a similar way to cannabinoids naturally found in cannabis such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The products were intended to be a legal alternative to cannabis, but are now banned.

Synthetic drugs acts on the same brain cell receptors as natural marijuana, but are more likely to cause hallucinations and heart problems.

Synthetic drugs have also been linked to an increased risk of seizures.

Effects include, but are not limited to: decreased motor co-ordination, fast or irregular heartbeat, disassociation, dizziness, paranoia, psychosis.

Use of synthetic drugs in New Zealand has also been linked to renal failure and heart failure.

(Source: alcoholdrughelp.org.nz)

Where to get help

If you, or someone you know, is using synthetic drugs, police urge you stop immediately and seek help if needed by contacting your local GP or by ringing the Alcohol and Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797 or text 8681 7 days a week to speak to a trained counsellor.

If you or someone else is in immediate danger call 111.