Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Families demand scrapping of legal-high laws

Emotional meeting hears of physical and psychological harm done by loved ones addicted to synthetic drugs

Una Macnaughtan says synthetic cannabis has damaged her son's brain beyond repair. After Kronic took its hold his life descended into an endless spiral, she says. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Una Macnaughtan says synthetic cannabis has damaged her son's brain beyond repair. After Kronic took its hold his life descended into an endless spiral, she says. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A mother who says synthetic cannabis turned her son into a monster has made an emotional plea to politicians to scrap a "world-first" law that allows synthetic drugs to be sold if they pass safety tests.

West Auckland mother Una Macnaughtan told 200 people at a public meeting in Waitakere yesterday that her son, now aged 21, changed overnight when he bought a packet of Kronic at a local dairy three years ago.

He has now been diagnosed with schizophrenia, has knocked holes in the house and has been charged with assaulting his mother.

Other people at the rowdy meeting said the legalised drugs had caused an increase in street begging, prostitution and theft - often from the addicts' own families - as young people's lives became consumed with finding money to buy the drugs.

Gardenia Rangi, a 15-year-old who left school two years ago after getting hooked on synthetic cannabis, bravely told her own story in a call to ban the drugs.

"You can't sleep properly," she said. "You do anything for Kronic, you push your family away, you steal from your family, you lie to your family. It kind of pulled my family apart."

Although the drug branded Kronic was banned in 2011, she was able to keep using other synthetic cannabis which she knew by the general term, Kronic. She only came off the drugs after a severe overdose on another drug a month ago.

The Psychoactive Substances Act, passed last July by 119-1 with only Act MP John Banks opposed, allows synthetic recreational drugs to be sold legally if they can be shown through scientific testing to have only a low risk of harm. Other countries are watching what New Scientist magazine described this month as "New Zealand's radical experiment".

Labour associate health spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway was abused when he defended the law at the meeting, arguing that more public education about synthetic drugs was needed but that prohibition would only drive them underground.

But Mana MP Hone Harawira, who also voted for the law, said drug retailers should be killed.

"If there is one law I could pass, it would be line up the guys who are making the most money out of this legal drug stuff, put them on TV and then publicly execute them, and then introduce a law to say the next bastard that does it is going to get the same treatment," he said.

Miss Macnaughtan said she confronted the shop near Waitakere Hospital where her son now gets his synthetic drugs even when he is in the psychiatric ward.

"I went in to talk to the woman and said, 'Did you know you were selling to mental health patients?"' she said.

"She said, 'They've got the money, honey, I want to make the sale. If your son wants to smoke this crap, it's not my problem'."

Auckland councillor Linda Cooper said the council was likely to ban sales within specified distances of schools and other community facilities, but the law did not allow it to ban the drugs.

Wellington lawyer Nick Russell of Chen Palmer said he served an application by legal drug retailers yesterday for a High Court judicial review of a Hamilton City Council policy which closed the city's six legal drug shops by banning them within 100 metres of facilities including pharmacies, public toilets and bus stops.

Tokoroa mother Julie King is organising nationwide protests against the law at 1pm on Saturday April 5 through a Facebook page called "Aotearoa bans the sale and distribution of legal highs in our country".

Mother: My precious boy's mind poisoned

Kronic, K2, Thai Hi, Giggle, Spice, Dream, Illusion, Ziggy ... are all names of the poison that stole my son, a poison that our government allows to be sold and to destroy lives, families, minds and souls. That breaks hearts beyond repair and tortures lives beyond belief.

In 2011 our nightmare began. Kronic took its hold and began our journey into an endless spiral that no parent should ever have to witness, moments of pure desperation and a struggle for answers that never come.

My beautiful, bright-eyed, cheeky, forever smiling boy disappeared in the very smoke he chose to inhale. It has damaged his intelligent brain to a point beyond repair, and trapped it in a place I can only imagine as pure hell.

It started with hours and hours of pacing, rambling and screaming to abusive music that he told me "spoke to him". Almost overnight he lost that wonderful spark in his eyes, a spark I believe will never return.

He would sit and stare at seemingly nothing, then start to laugh at whatever that nothing was. The mornings started with gut- wrenching vomits, chest-pounding coughs and sweats that engulfed him. To this day, years later when his body is heaving in spasms, he still can't make the connection that it is caused by the vile crap he inhaled the day before. He lost his full-time job and life, as we knew it, was over.

Then my journey - or rather fight - with the mental health system began. From his first admission into hospital, doctors' visits that terrified, confused and angered me and meds that didn't work, side-effects that drove him to despair, the diagnosis being "psychosis".

We lived on egg shells. Forever fearful of what would happen next, my young daughter and I constantly trying to protect each other and avoid upsetting him at all costs. At times he was like a crazed animal fighting an invisible demon, conjured up in a mind that could no longer think logically, see clearly or hear anything outside his internal world.

The admissions to mental health units for a time became frequent and short, a band-aid only, and all this time he never stopped smoking the stuff that put him in there. I would walk into the ward and know how my visit was going to be just by the smell that hit me. Not even in hospital was his fragile mind safe from poison.

His longest and most recent admission was for nine weeks. I walked through the doors every day and every time I left behind another piece of my broken heart.

My precious daughter is forever in "protective" mode because she lives in fear of what may happen next, what new horror will have her mum in tears or thrown up against a wall by the brother who stole her Christmas savings so he could get another fix.

I can't see an end to this three years of hell that has driven me to such moments of desperation that at times I doubt my sanity.

Where did my boy go? I struggle to remember how he used to joke and laugh with us. One of those smiles that could light up a room.

The reality is that he was gone in those first few months that now feel like a lifetime ago. The spark in his eyes died and left an emptiness that only reflects the despair within.

How something that is solely made to make you high ever made it on to our shelves angers me. What kind of legal poison turns a loving son into a monster that at the height of a desperate rage can bring himself to spit in his mother's face. It is called synthetic cannabis.


Families demand scrapping of legal-high laws


Emotional meeting hears of physical and psychological harm done by loved ones addicted to synthetic cannabis.

photo / Northern advocate
photo / Northern advocate

A mother who says synthetic cannabis turned her son into a monster has made an emotional plea to politicians to scrap a "world-first" law that allows synthetic drugs to be sold if they pass safety tests.

West Auckland mother Una Macnaughtan told 200 people at a public meeting in Waitakere yesterday that her son, now aged 21, changed overnight when he bought a packet of Kronic at a local dairy three years ago.

He has now been diagnosed with schizophrenia, has knocked holes in the house and has been charged with assaulting his mother.

Other people at the rowdy meeting said the legalised drugs had caused an increase in street begging, prostitution and theft - often from the addicts' own families - as young people's lives became consumed with finding money to buy the drugs.

Gardenia Rangi, a 15-year-old who left school two years ago after getting hooked on synthetic cannabis, bravely told her own story in a call to ban the drugs.

"You can't sleep properly," she said. "You do anything for Kronic, you push your family away, you steal from your family, you lie to your family. It kind of pulled my family apart."

Although the drug branded Kronic was banned in 2011, she was able to keep using other synthetic cannabis which she knew by the general term, Kronic. She only came off the drugs after a severe overdose on another drug a month ago.

The Psychoactive Substances Act, passed last July by 119-1 with only Act MP John Banks opposed, allows synthetic recreational drugs to be sold legally if they can be shown through scientific testing to have only a low risk of harm. Other countries are watching what New Scientist magazine described this month as "New Zealand's radical experiment".

Labour associate health spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway was abused when he defended the law at the meeting, arguing that more public education about synthetic drugs was needed but that prohibition would only drive them underground.

But Mana MP Hone Harawira, who also voted for the law, said drug retailers should be killed.

"If there is one law I could pass, it would be line up the guys who are making the most money out of this legal drug stuff, put them on TV and then publicly execute them, and then introduce a law to say the next bastard that does it is going to get the same treatment," he said.

Miss Macnaughtan said she confronted the shop near Waitakere Hospital where her son now gets his synthetic drugs even when he is in the psychiatric ward.

"I went in to talk to the woman and said, 'Did you know you were selling to mental health patients?"' she said.

"She said, 'They've got the money, honey, I want to make the sale. If your son wants to smoke this crap, it's not my problem'."

Auckland councillor Linda Cooper said the council was likely to ban sales within specified distances of schools and other community facilities, but the law did not allow it to ban the drugs.

Wellington lawyer Nick Russell of Chen Palmer said he served an application by legal drug retailers yesterday for a High Court judicial review of a Hamilton City Council policy which closed the city's six legal drug shops by banning them within 100 metres of facilities including pharmacies, public toilets and bus stops.

Tokoroa mother Julie King is organising nationwide protests against the law at 1pm on Saturday April 5 through a Facebook page called "Aotearoa bans the sale and distribution of legal highs in our country".

- NZ Herald

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