Mystery after woman, 45, undergoing detox dies

By Mike Dinsdale

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The death of a woman undergoing drug detox treatment at a Kaitaia health centre has been referred to the coroner.

Kaitaia police Senior Sergeant Geoff Ryan said the woman, aged 45, died while being treated at the Herb Shack - which is home to Te Whare Rongoa - House of Medicine centre.

Mr Ryan said the woman was being treated for drug detoxification, but he was unsure of any of the details of that treatment.

He said the death had been referred to the Coronial Services.

A coroner would likely hold an inquest into her death at a later date.

Mr Ryan said the woman was not from the Kaitaia area. She is believed to have died on June 29, after a treatment course at the centre, but it is not known if the treatment was behind the death and that is a matter the coroner will determine.

The Northern Advocate understands that the woman was receiving treatment for an addiction to opiates.

Te Whare Rongoa uses ibogaine treatments to battle addictions, with the treatment costing up to $6500 for methamphetamine detox - opiate or alcohol detox is $5000 - with treatment lasting up to two weeks, the company's website says.

Te Whare Rongoa medical director Dr Cornelius van Dorp is overseas and unavailable for comment, but trustee John Clarke - a psychiatric nurse - said the centre was concerned about the effects of the death on the woman's family.

Mr Clarke said it was not appropriate for him to comment on any of the details as the matter is before the coroner, but the centre would be keen to discuss the issue fully once the coroner's hearing was over.

The Multi-Disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies describes ibogaine - which is from the plant Tabernanthe iboga, originating in Africa - as a psychoactive alkaloid, a mild stimulant in small doses and in larger doses inducing a profound psychedelic state.

In 2009 MedSafe approved it as a prescription medicine only, but NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the organisation had concerns about its use, with only two places at each end of the country using it as a drug treatment.

"We have always urged caution on the use of ibogaine due to lack of clinical evidence," Mr Bell said.

"It was allowed by MedSafe, but after reading the decision it seems that was just to stop it becoming another legal high.

"It's been described as this miracle cure, but there isn't the medical literature around its effectiveness, and there are reports of it leading to deaths, which raised our concern.

"I hope our concerns haven't been proved right with this case."

He said NZDF would call on the Government to restrict those able to prescribe ibogaine treatment to psychiatrists and addiction medicine specialists.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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