Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Legal highs linked to deaths - coroner

File photo / Brett Phibbs
File photo / Brett Phibbs

Legal highs must be banned sooner rather than later, says a Coroner who notes they are cropping up in more and more inquests.

Coroner Tim Scott made the call after ruling on the deaths of two young men who both died shortly after taking legal highs.

A decision by Fielding freezing worker Jarrett Simeon, 28, to smoke K2 synthetic cannabis before he swam at Himatangi beach, near Palmerston North, on January 5, this year, contributed to his drowning, the coroner ruled.

"To go swimming after consuming K2 in my view is something akin to going swimming after drinking alcohol - not a smart thing to do and perhaps lethal depending on quantity,'' Coroner Scott said.

The same coroner also oversaw the inquest into the death of 16-year-old Kaura Kahui, who fell 8m down a steep bank while drunk and high on party pills in New Plymouth.

Temporary bans are in place for 33 substances including K2, but they will lapse in August.

A select committee is currently working on the Psychoactive Substances Bill which would ban all unsafe synthetic drugs from August.

Coroner Scott says the ban can't come quick enough.

Speaking in relation to Simeon's death, he said synthetic cannabis was "beginning to feature as a factor in some of the deaths I am investigating and I imagine that other coroners are finding this also''.

"I cannot see that it has anything to recommend it and the sooner it is made an illegal substance the better so far as I am concerned,'' he said.

"I cannot say with any degree of accuracy what effect this substance had upon Jarrett [Simeon] but it was almost certainly negative and may very well have contributed to his death.''

While he admitted his knowledge of party pills was limited, he could not see that they are "of any benefit whatsoever''.

The shop where Kahui and his mates bought the legal highs before washing them down with straight rum in Pukekura Park has since closed down, but still sells them online.

Coroner Scott welcomed the shop's high street closure, adding: "To my mind, the sooner such pills or substances become illegal the better.''

- NZ Herald

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