Numbers seeking help to quit already soaring

By Martin Johnston

The Government's move to withdraw the interim licences came after increasing reports of severe reactions to the drugs. Photo / Chris Loufte
The Government's move to withdraw the interim licences came after increasing reports of severe reactions to the drugs. Photo / Chris Loufte

The number of people seeking help to quit synthetic cannabis has soared and is expected to rise further next month when 42 "legal highs" lose their interim state approval.

"We have even seen a marginal increase today," Dr Susanna Galea, the clinical director of Auckland's state-funded Community Alcohol and Drug Service (CADS), said yesterday.

Two to four people a week were now seeking help from CADS for withdrawal from synthetic cannabis addiction, up from about one a week since August. The service estimates 40 per cent of people seeking its help use the drugs.

And among the 42 per cent of youth clients who used synthetic cannabis, 11 per cent suffered addiction or dependence and 9 per cent reported criminal or violent behaviour.

For those needing detoxification help for synthetic cannabis, it can take 14 days if they are treated as an in-patient, compared with 10 for alcohol withdrawal.

"If they're very agitated," said Dr Galea, "we can give them [anti-anxiety medication], or for excessive vomiting we give an anti-emetic to help reduce vomiting, or sometimes we may need to send them to someone for intravenous fluids because of dehydration."

The Government's move to withdraw the interim licences came after increasing reports of severe reactions to the drugs and the inability to pin particular cases to specific drugs because of weaknesses in the reporting system.

Waitemata District Health Board's acute psychiatric unit in West Auckland blamed "two significant assaults on staff and damage to the unit" on two patients using legal highs while on leave from the facility.

The Drug Foundation's executive director Ross Bell expected some users would stockpile supplies before the ban and would continue to buy the drugs afterwards on the illegal black market. But others would stop using the drugs when the ban began and some would need extra support.

Ben Birks, the youth outreach team leader for addictions rehabilitation service Odyssey House, said synthetic withdrawal symptoms were similar to plant cannabis although altered perceptions occurred more commonly with the synthetics. "We had one person where it lasted for two months and he was still seeing and hearing things that weren't there; for most of them that would be gone within a couple of weeks."

Withdrawal symptoms
Symptoms of withdrawal from synthetic cannabis addiction can include:
*Irritability
*Disturbed sleeping
*Persistent vomiting
*Paranoia
*Psychosis
*Aggression
*Suicidal thoughts
*Symptoms can last for several weeks

Advice on quitting
*Reduce usage slowly
*Rest, mild exercise, drinking plenty of water
*If you need help, call Healthline, 0800 611 116

- NZ Herald

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