By Tristram Clayton
A West Auckland mother with inside knowledge of the synthetic cannabis trade says the scale of the problem is much worse than the public and authorities realise.
Former drug-taker Wena Theodore says homeless addicts are being used as human guinea pigs to test homemade chemical concoctions that are sold as synthetic cannabis.
"The dealers are just adding their own chemicals into this stuff," says Theodore.
"You got turps, methylated spirits, mental health medicine, sleeping pills and rat poison.
The dealers chop it up and grind it into a powder and sell it as synthetics."
Theodore says she knows two of the 10 people who have died after using the toxic concoctions but says the dealers don't care.
"They just stick in whatever they can to make money. They don't care if you die.
"Two people who passed away because of that stuff were people we knew and the dealers knew. They gave it to them anyway. It's about the money every time.
"That's all you hear: 'they wanted, they got it, it's not my fault they died'."
Theodore admits she's struggled with addiction in the past and is currently awaiting sentencing for drugs-related offences.
But she says she's clean now and is speaking out because of the damage she's seen caused by synthetics.
"I have a husband in prison. He's doing 10 months in there and that was to do with synthetics.
"I had my own son on it. He was on it really bad. When he went off it, he couldn't eat, couldn't sit still. He didn't sleep for two straight weeks.
"It's actually worse than meth."
Theodore says the outlook is bleak and believes many more lives will be taken before the scourge of synthetics can be overcome.
"There's no undoing this. It's not going to stop.
"We've been through so much brokenness and trauma. A lot of people have to hit rock bottom before they change.
"But it's unfortunate that some people don't get that privilege because they end up in a box."