About 15 years ago, I remember the first stories coming out about meth. People, it was said, were going crazy on a new drug. After smoking it, they were staying up for days on end, unable to sleep, becoming paranoid and aggressive.

People were being hurt, maimed and killed because of its effects and the police said they'd never seen anything like it.

Initially, on talkback, callers were sanguine. If meth was devastating the criminal community, the hookers, the gangs and the underclass, well, it was Darwinian. God's pruning fork.

This methamphetamine was doing the work of the police, cleaning up the streets by taking out the scumbags that were using this illegal drug. Within a couple of years, the sentiment had changed dramatically.


Meth had crawled out of the gutter and into respectable homes. The children of the middle classes, men and women in the society pages, respectable businessmen - they were falling prey to the drug and suddenly the community was galvanised. Something must be done. The Government should step in. Money was directed towards the police so they could rid the country of this scourge.

I hate to think how much has been spent on the war against P.

Given that just last year John Key announced $15 million was being set aside for initiatives to combat gangs making and distributing the drug, the amount must be in the hundreds of millions.

And yet none of the initiatives seem to have had much of an impact.

People are still dying because of the huge rewards to be gained from hooking Kiwis on this insidious drug.

And now a new drug has appeared on the streets and the stories about synie are the same as they were about meth.

Synie is the street name for synthetic cannabis, according to talkback callers - although it bears absolutely no relation to real cannabis. It's manufactured by chopping up some sort of plant material - dried herbs, grass clippings, real marijuana - anything will do. A chemical mixture including psychoactive drugs is then sprayed on to it and it's left to dry.

The chemicals do the real damage. The scientists have no idea what's being used in the mixture and it varies from batch to batch. There are reports of weed killer, fly spray, rat poison and horse tranquilliser being used. And it's strong - one synie joint is many times more concentrated than a normal joint.


Nine deaths have been linked to synie. Users don't know what they're buying and ingesting but they don't care. People without hope or any belief in a future just want to switch off for a while.

One former addict told Radio New Zealand he'd seen a man take the sneakers off his kids' feet and swap them for a bag of synie - that's the level of desperation.

So far, however, the deaths have been among the homeless and the desperate - just as P initially ravaged those on the fringes of society.

And so far the attitude has been blase at best, callous at worst - just as it was when the damage P was doing was first reported.

But it's creeping into middle class homes again. A couple of correspondents told me their kids had inadvertently smoked synie. They thought they were buying cannabis but a shortage in the region means dealers are beefing up their supply with synie.

And the results have been immediate and devastating.

One mum said her son shouldn't have been smoking weed, but he would never have knowingly bought synie. He has spent the past three months in and out of hospital and mental health units as he tries to combat the effects of the drug.

The wider community might think this is a street drug that has little to do with them, their lives and their children.

It might pay to remember that's what people thought about P all those years ago.

• Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB Monday-Friday, noon-4pm.