Yesterday police and the Chief Coroner revealed that 20 people had died this year as a result of suspected synthetic drug use.

Today, we meet the family of a young man who tried with all of his might to beat his addiction - but died in his bedroom at his family home after a fatal dose.

Calum Jones' last words to his sister were a promise.

As he dropped her off at work she asked him to promise her that he would not use synthetic cannabis that day.

"I promise I won't," the 22-year-old said.

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Hours later he was dead, found lifeless on his bedroom floor by his elderly grandmother.

He broke his promise and used.

He took a tiny dose - smaller than a little finger nail - but it was so toxic that it stopped his heart almost immediately.

Jones had only been out of full time rehab one day.

Now, his parents Lorraine and Lewis are speaking out in a bid to save other lives - and to put pressure on the Government to do more help struggling addicts and support their families.

- To help ease Calum's family's unexpected financial stress, visit https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/calumjones

They say there is little real help available for users like their son - who had been addicted to psychoactive substances since 2012 when they were legal in New Zealand.

"We don't want Calum's legacy to be that he died from synthetic cannabis," Lorraine said.

"There are people that need help - but there is no help."

The grieving parents took extreme measures to get Jones off the drugs - getting a court order to put him into detox.

They were sick of seeing him dribbling, vomiting, incoherent, unable to move, soiling himself and being aggressive and violent while he was high.

It was breaking their hearts and after watching him try to get off the drugs twice on his own, took drastic action.

They said it was "a long road" to get the court order and they had to jump through countless hoops and were pushed from pillar to post to obtain different paperwork and information before they could get him any real help.

He was doing well but hours after he returned home his dealer tracked him down and made a special home delivery - for free - and the lure was simply too much for Jones.

"It's like giving chocolate to someone who's on a diet," Lorraine said.

"He had no money to pay for it so they must have just given it to him.

"I know he had no money because he had to borrow $3 off me that morning to get a V [energy drink].

"They targeted him."

Police are investigating Jones' death and it will be referred to the Coroner.

Lorraine last spoke to her son about 9.30am on September 1.

"The last thing I said to him was, 'I love you honey'," she recalled.

"He drove his sister and I to work the day he died.

"He dropped her off first and she said, 'Don't use today Calum' and he said, 'I promise I won't'.

"Then he dropped me off and said, 'I love you Mum' and I said, 'I love you too honey'... I'm so glad that's the last words I said to him."

Calum Paterson Jones died on September 1 after taking synthetic cannabis. Photograph supplied
Calum Paterson Jones died on September 1 after taking synthetic cannabis. Photograph supplied

Just after midday he was found by his grandmother in cardiac arrest on the bedroom floor of the family home.

Jones' parents say they feel failed by the Government and are now hell bent on affecting change so that other families around New Zealand dealing with similar situations can get proper help.

"It's not going to bring him back - we know that," Lorraine said.

"But we want to highlight there's nothing there to help. Nothing."

Lewis said the Government banned synthetic cannabis in 2013 but it had not done enough to help those who were already hooked.

"The Government allowed them to be put out there and then they said 'no' and took them away again," Lewis said.

"The fallout from that was that thousands and thousands of people were addicted by then and they were left with nothing.

"If you're an alcoholic there's help out there, if you're a methamphetamine addict there's help - but with synthetic cannabis it's like 'nah'.

"The Government has created this horrendous new age of addicts - before they were illegal, the were legal and it breaks my heart, it actually breaks my heart."

In 2013, the Government introduced the new Psychoactive Substances Act 2013, aiming to regulate the availability of synthetic cannabis and other similar products "to protect the health of, and minimise harm to, individuals" using them.

Before the act was passed, psychoactive substances were able to be sold without restriction.

Banning them did not stop Jones.

Addiction 'dictated our lives'

Lorraine said her son's addiction had "dictated" her life for about eight years.

He started smoking cannabis socially at 13 and by the time he was 15 he was a daily user.

At the end of 2013 Jones discovered synthetic drugs, which were then legal, and they became his drug of choice.

His drug use caused him to become aggressive and violent and he got in trouble with the police.

His relationship broke down when his girlfriend could no longer tolerate his addiction - which saw him using synthetics up to seven times a day - and when their daughter was born she restricted his access to her, worried about his behaviour around the baby.

He trained as a mechanic but struggled to get full-time work, which sent him deeper down a rabbit hole of drugs and destruction.

By the end of 2016 he was using synthetics every day.

His mother and sister would regularly find him high often incoherent or unconscious.

He used the drugs alone, ashamed of his addiction and what he became when he was high.

He'd go to a local reserve, park his car in the trees and use there.

Often he'd go missing for days at a time.

Calum Jones, described by his family as a 'gentle giant' battled addiction for many years. Photograph supplied
Calum Jones, described by his family as a 'gentle giant' battled addiction for many years. Photograph supplied

In 2016 he disappeared from work in his boss's car and it was three days before Lorraine found him in a terrible state - unable to move he was so affected by the drugs.

Lorraine regularly saw her son dribbling, convulsing, vomiting - often with blood, and soiled or wet himself on some occasions.

He would also scream violently because of heart palpitations.

He started to steal items from his family to sell for drug money and when his father contacted police the property was all found at a West Auckland pawn shop.

Lorraine said even when her son was not high he was deeply affected by synthetics.

His personality changed and he was either lethargic or hyperactive, often agitated, argumentative and initiated verbal and physical fights.

He had constant mood swings - flying from anxious and paranoid to over-confident and arrogant.

In a letter Lorraine wrote earlier this year she said: "Calum's family and friends are afraid that his behaviours are detrimental to his emotional and physical wellbeing and are now concerned for his safety.

"My ex-husband and myself feel that if we don't do something to intervene soon we will be burying our son this side of Christmas."

Little did she know how prophetic her words were that day.

Gentle giant, tortured soul, addict

Jones, according to his parents, "came into the world with a hiss and a roar".

He grew into a "full on" and "larger than life" character, popular and well liked for his loud and boisterous personality.

"He was a gentle giant," his mother said.

"He was a mummy's boy, he was always giving me hugs."

His size and head of blonde curls earned him the nickname Chewy, after the Star Wars character Chewbacca.

He was a popular and generous.

Lorraine said Jones would "do anything for anyone" and often took his mates in when they needed a bed, gave up his shoes if they had none and was always willing to help his family where he could.

"Calum was more than a junkie - he had a family that loved him, his personality was larger than life, it was huge.

Tragically, the boy with the big heart grew into a man with a terrible addiction.

A few months ago his parents were left with no other option but to have Jones sectioned under the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966.

He spent two weeks in a detox facility in central Auckland and then, after a lot of pushing, paperwork and red tape, was accepted into a residential treatment programme.

To get there Jones signed forms to say he needed and wanted help.

He got clean, but with just a few weeks to go of the programme it was decided by Jones and his case worker that he could complete it as a day-patient and he was allowed to go home.

Within days, he was dead.

Calum Jones' parents, Lorraine and Lewis. New Zealand Herald photograph by Nick Reed
Calum Jones' parents, Lorraine and Lewis. New Zealand Herald photograph by Nick Reed

Texts found on his phone revealed that in the three days before Jones died, a drug dealer had messaged him almost 100 times trying to entice him to buy synthetic cannabis.

Jones resisted, telling the dealer no, he was in rehab.

Furthermore he was sick at home with a cold and not interested.

That night, alerted to where Jones was and while his mother was out, the dealer showed up at the house and gave him a bag of synthetic cannabis.

On Friday September 1 he dropped his mother and sister off at work, went home and tried to get high again.

He was effectively dead in seconds.

Police have told his parents that Jones took a "little fingernail size amount" of the drug.

But it was so toxic it stopped his heart immediately.

His grandmother found him lifeless in his bedroom just after midday.

She called 111 and screamed at the operator "my grandson is dead".

Then she called Lorraine at work.

"She was screaming down the phone at me and then a police officer came on and said I
needed to get home right now," she said.

"I got home and they told me he was in cardiac arrest. It didn't register. I said 'just fix him' and I was screaming down the hall to him 'just breathe, just breathe'.

"I couldn't get to him, there were so many people there trying to save him.

"They waited until Lewis arrived and then a cop came out and said 'I'm sorry'.

"It just knocked our legs out from under us. It was horrible."

The pair said despite their son's addiction they never thought he would end up dead.

"It just makes you gut sick," Lewis said.

"He was really turning a corner, he was so proud of himself."

He had celebrated being 30 days clean and invited his family to a ceremony at the rehab
centre.

The day he came home, the day before he died, he'd been clean for six weeks.

He spoke to his father about his future - the first time in years he'd thought ahead.

He wanted to propose to his partner at Christmas and was looking forward to getting straight so they could move in together.

Bereft parents Lorraine and Lewis spoke about their son's synthetic cannabis death in a bid to help others. New Zealand Herald photograph by Nick Reed
Bereft parents Lorraine and Lewis spoke about their son's synthetic cannabis death in a bid to help others. New Zealand Herald photograph by Nick Reed

She loved him, but had told him that until he was clean she would not live with him.

He was also looking forward to spending more time with his daughter.

She is 2-and-a-half and Jones adored her.

Because her mother, his ex, was concerned about his drug use, his contact with the child was limited to Sundays, under his mother's supervision.

But he and his ex were finally in a good place and Jones was excited about having more time with his little girl.

Lorraine showed the Herald a Father's Day card with her granddaughter's hand print on the front.

She was so excited to give it to her father - but he died before he could receive it.

The youngster now talks about her daddy "going to sleep for a very long time" but is yet to understand the loss.

The family have set up a givealittle page to help cover the unexpected costs of Calum's death.

Spate of synthetics deaths prompts urgent warning

In July a spike in synthetic cannabis-related deaths in Auckland prompted a public warning from Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall.

Yesterday she issued a second plea and revealed that there were now 20 deaths before coroners where synthetic drugs were thought to have caused death.

"Each case is a tragedy for the family and friends of those left behind," Judge Marshall said.

"While many deaths have occurred in Auckland, a number of cases in other parts of New Zealand have also been reported to Coronial Services.

"Using any illicit drug carries risks, and in the case of synthetic drugs, they are known to cause potentially fatal seizures.

"I urge anyone considering using this drug not to do so, and for those who are, to reach out to services that might assist them."

Detective Inspector Scott Beard also pleaded for the community to help police stop the flow of the drugs.

He called on anyone with information about manufacturers or dealers to contact police immediately.

"We need your help to catch these offenders and to hold them to account," he said.

He revealed that the majority of drugs seized had been ESR tested and were found to contain the dangerous chemical AMB-FUBINACA.

"I want to be very clear that we have been open and transparent about our testing, this is what ESR is finding in the drugs we have seized," Beard said.

"It is a dangerous drug that we know is a synthetic compound usually manufactured overseas.

"Those taking it, are taking a huge risk because you do not know where it has come from, or the level of dosage."

In July ambulance staff in Auckland told the Herald they were seeing about 20 users a day suffering "life-threatening effects" from the illegal drug.

The drug is also causing harm around the rest of the country.

The death of a young Feilding man last week is being investigated by police to find out whether it was caused by synthetic cannabis.

The 21-year-old died last Thursday. At the same time, a number of others were admitted to Palmerston North Hospital with suspected side effects from synthetic cannabis use.

Police said it was not clear whether the death was because of the drug and the matter had been referred to the coroner.

No plans for specific synthetic help

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said through the Ministry of Health, the Government funded district health boards to provide alcohol and other drug treatment services - and to treat sufferers experiencing a range of different addiction issues, including synthetic cannabis.

He said there had been an increase in people seeking treatment for addiction since 2008/09 but there was no intention to do more for those struggling with synthetics.

"Significant work is being undertaken internationally to improve the understanding of clinical treatment and management of psychoactive substance use and will inform treatment in New Zealand," he said.

"The most important plea I can make is for people to stop using these illegal substances.

"Their contents are unknown to users, it is illegal to use, manufacture and deal in these substances and, as your story sadly reveals, they are not only extremely dangerous but their use also can be fatal."

Labour's health spokesman David Clark said if elected, his party would "invest in health services to fund more dedicated alcohol and other drug Treatment beds so people are not waiting more than six weeks to get dedicated treatment.

"Labour is investing in an additional $8 billion over the next four years into health. We are significantly increasing funding to DHBs and we will make our expectations clear that there must be more beds as part of this funding increase."

He said synthetics were "tearing families apart".

"This must be treated as a health issue," he said.

What is synthetic cannabis?

Smokable 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).

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

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

Synthetic marijuana has also been linked to an increased risk of seizures.

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

Use of synthetic cannabis 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 cannabis, 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.