Synthetics are ravaging New Zealand families - and the mother of a man who died after using the toxic drugs has spoken out about the "darkness" of addiction and the inescapable pain of losing a loved one to the killer epidemic.
Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall today revealed that at least 75 people across New Zealand had died after taking synthetic drugs since June 2017.
Of those, 24 people had died as a direct result of synthetic drug toxicity.
In the remaining cases synthetics are provisionally attributed as the cause of death.
In those cases a final cause of death was yet to be ruled by Coroners.
Synthetic drugs: Death toll rises to 75 as toxic epidemic rages on
Deadly synthetics: Man lay dead in boarding house for 8 days after smoking toxic drugs, says Coroner
The Big Read: Anatomy of synthetics addiction and the fast track to death
Synthetics deaths: New details about man who supplied drugs to sister, cousin
One of those on the tragic list is Kahu James Harawira, who died in June 2017.
He was found dead behind a building in Henderson, soon after his stepmother Stephanie saw him scoring synthetic drugs from a local dealer.
Harawira, one of 11 children, had turned 29 just days earlier.
Stephanie Harawira, who raised her boy since he was young, said synthetics were not just decimating the lives of addicts - they were destroying Kiwi families each and every day.
"It just leaves a hole in your heart and it doesn't get any better when you lose your son," she said.
Stephanie Harawira said she was not surprised that the death toll had reached 75, and she expected it to keep pushing upward.
"I think it is always going to increase the moment [synthetics] were allowed into the nation," she said.
"Seventy-five deaths - that's horrid, and that's only the ones that have passed away.
"What about all the people who are hooked on this stuff… and their families?
"It's so addictive and so destructive… synthetics are just killing, and they will keep killing."
Stephanie Harawira said the "rampaging" problem of synthetics was not properly realised in New Zealand.
Many of those who had died were troubled, vulnerable, homeless.
So, the perception for most was that the synthetics epidemic was only impacting certain sectors of the community.
"I think it's being brushed aside," Stephanie Harawira said.
"It's not getting the urgency it deserves.
"How many of our kids have to die, how many families have to be destroyed by synthetics?
"It won't be until it hits a politician's kid or their families that there is proper action."
Synthetic drugs were originally developed to be a legal alternative to cannabis.
However, on May 8, 2014, following nationwide protests against the drug, it became illegal to sell or use psychoactive substances in New Zealand.
Stephanie Harawira said the Government, in allowing the drugs into the community, was responsible in part for the deaths of all 75 users.
"The blood really is on the hands of the Government," she said.
"Whist everyone has their own freedom of choice, if you put a child in a candy shop - they're going to eat the candy."
Stephanie Harawira has been a community worker for many years and has supported many people battling addiction.
Within months of synthetics hitting the market in New Zealand she noticed a dramatic change in drug users.
"They weren't just stoned like they are on marijuana," she said.
"They were in a zombie state, peel-them-off-the-street stoned - there was such a huge difference."
"It just got really dark - they just got really dark, their eyes were dark.
"And then we realised what they'd been on, they were on synthetic.
"They became very unsafe… there was such a shift mind shift and spiritual shift, they became hostile very quickly.
"That was long before my boy started down that track…"
Stephanie Harawira recalls one young woman who had personal issues but huge potential to get back on her feet and make something of her life, succumbing to synthetics.
"She would come out the back of the community centre I ran and turn tricks, giving [sexual favours] for the substance," she said.
"It was crazy… she was a beautiful girl, but when she became hooked on synthetics she became a nightmare."
Stephanie Harawira saw her son the day before he died.
"He had stopped with one of the guys on the street and they were going off to smoke it [synthetics]," she recalled.
"Twenty-four hours later, he passed… it's devastating."
She had spoken to her son numerous times about the drugs, begging him to stop.
But the grip of synthetics was too strong.
"You stand in front of your child and wave a red flag, you shout 'danger, danger', but they say 'nah mum, it's all good'.
"They are blasé about it, they think they are immune…. It's like you can see them walking off a cliff and you yell out 'you're walking towards a cliff boy' and they just carry on…
"What a blimmin waste…" Stephanie Harawira said, her voice breaking at the memory of her son.
She said synthetics were "running rampant" through the community, and families.
"My son became very antisocial, there was a loss of his spirit," she said.
"It's quite a helpless situation."
In August the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill passed its final reading - giving police discretion to take a health-centred approach, rather than prosecuting those in possession of Class A drugs.
It also classifies the main substances of synthetic drugs - AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-ADB - as Class A drugs and enabled temporary drug class orders to be issued for emerging substances.
Stephanie Harawira urged authorities to do more to stop the substances even getting into New Zealand.
"We've got to stop it at the borders, remove anything that is in synthetics," she implored.
"The death of my son has made me determined to confront and challenge the status quo - and I really hope the Government takes up that challenge... or it will have more blood on it's hands."
Synthetic drugs - the story so far
Since June 2017, 75 people have died after consuming synthetic drugs.
Of those, 25 deaths have been confirmed by Coroners as directly resulting from synthetics.
Synthetic drugs - or synnies - are smokable products containing varieties of plant matter that have been infused with synthetic cannabinomimetic substances.
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 drugs act on the same brain cell receptors as natural marijuana, but are more likely to cause hallucinations and heart problems.
Synthetic drugs have also been linked to an increased risk of seizures.
Effects include, but are not limited to: decreased motor co-ordination, fast or irregular heartbeat, disassociation, dizziness, paranoia, psychosis.
Use of synthetic drugs in New Zealand has also been linked to renal failure and heart failure.
Synthetic drugs - how to help
If a person who has had synthetics collapses, that person should be immediately shaken to attempt to rouse them.
If the person rouses, that person should be placed in the recovery position and a call made for help.
If the person does not rouse, call for help and commence chest compressions - do not delay.
IF YOU NEED HELP IMMEDIATELY, DIAL 111