The parents of a young dad who died after using synthetic drugs while in rehab care have teamed up with a law firm which consults with civil rights crusader Erin Brockovich to push for sweeping changes to addiction services and support in New Zealand.

And they are calling on other families struggling to get help across the nation to come forward and bolster their efforts.

Calum Jones, 22, died in September 2017 - a day after he returned home temporarily from what was supposed to be a full-time rehabilitation facility.

The father-of-one had been battling an addiction to synthetic drugs for years and was desperate to get clean.

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His parents - exhausted after years of struggling with the addiction - went as far as obtaining a court order to force Jones into detox.

They said there was little help other than that, and despite the court order, beds in detox facilities were sparse and methamphetamine and alcohol addicts were generally seen as a higher priority.

Calum Jones had been in detox and then rehab for his synthetics addiction but died soon after going home on a temporary leave. Photo / supplied
Calum Jones had been in detox and then rehab for his synthetics addiction but died soon after going home on a temporary leave. Photo / supplied

They said there was nothing out there specifically for synthetics users - which was infuriating given most became addicted after starting on the substances when they were legal in New Zealand.

The government banned synthetics in 2013 but for people like Jones, who were already hooked, there was no help offered to get them off the toxic and deadly substances.

There are now 80 deaths before the Coroner believed to be directly related to synthetic drug use.

Jones' parents Lewis and Lorraine first shared his story - and their battle - with the Herald soon after he died.

They spoke of seeing Jones dribbling, vomiting, incoherent, unable to move, soiling himself and being aggressive and violent while he was high; of him pawning off their property to get fast cash to pay for drugs; of seeing him lying dead on the floor of the family home; and telling his young daughter that her beloved daddy was never coming home.

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Since then they have been fighting for change since and last month met with Shine Lawyers to plead for help.

Shine specialises in civil and insurance litigation and Erin Brockovich - renowned for her work as an environmental activist and consumer advocate - consults with the firm and is an ambassador.

Lewis wanted to establish whether there was any way people with a synthetics addiction like his son could get specialised treatment through a legal framework, drafted specifically to cater for those who are not deemed as extreme cases within the framework of current legislation.

Shine barrister and solicitor Pieter Venter agreed to work with Lewis to gather information and create awareness with a view to addressing lawmakers on the matter.

The aim is to create awareness around the dangers of synthetics and get more support for families dealing with addicts like Jones.

Lewis hoped changes could be made to current laws, or new legislation could be introduced to help.

"The New Zealand government has never acknowledged, nor apologised for their role of introducing synthetic substances to our youth or leaving them without adequate treatment other than voluntary - when they choose to do so," said Lewis.

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"If the government is going to legalise certain drugs, there has to be a balance to creating "addicts by choice": accountability.

"That is the justice that is sought for Calum and others on the same path."

Calum Jones' parents Lewis and Lorraine are fighting for more support and help for synthetics addicts and their families. Photo / Nick Reed
Calum Jones' parents Lewis and Lorraine are fighting for more support and help for synthetics addicts and their families. Photo / Nick Reed

The order Lewis obtained to get his son into rehab was under the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966.

He and Lorraine said they took the drastic step after being told by numerous doctors and health professionals that their son should "just stop using".

Lewis discovered the act he had relied on to get his court order had been repealed and replaced with the Substance Addiction (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 2017.

The new act caters for extreme cases where the addiction has become life-threatening.

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And a person with a severe substance addiction that impairs their capacity to make informed decisions about treatment for their addiction could get help more easily.

However, Jones' parents said in their experience Auckland does not have anywhere near enough resources to facilitate the detox or the rehabilitation centres of the compulsory treatment option offer under the SACAT Act.

"In reality, unless you have the money to enter a private rehabilitation centre, it can take weeks, sometimes months, to secure a bed in a residential rehabilitation treatment facility," said Lewis.

"Finances are a barrier to entering residential treatment ... for some families this is not an
option."

Erin Brockovich is an ambassador for Shine Lawyers and is famed for her civil litigation and activism work.
Erin Brockovich is an ambassador for Shine Lawyers and is famed for her civil litigation and activism work.

Lewis called for urgent changes to current legislation, or new legislation to provide specialised government-funded treatment for addicts that cannot afford treatment and did not fall within the scope of the SACAT Act - specifically those struggling with synthetics.

"Such legislation would need to be tailored for drug addicts and not deal with alcoholism jointly," he said.

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"Hopefully going forward there would be the availability of specialised rehab facilities with qualified personnel and the required space to assist people like Calum, before it becomes too late."

Venter said Shine Lawyers wanted to hear from other families who had lost loved ones as a result of "unavailable addiction services" or were still battling to find professional help.

"Together we can affect change," he said.

A broken promise and a tragic death - Calum's last day

The last person to speak to Jones before he died was his sister Heather.

He dropped her off at work and she asked him to promise that he would not use synthetics that day.

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

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

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He broke his promise and used.

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

Lorraine's mother found Jones unconscious in his bedroom soon after.

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," Lorraine told the Herald in 2017.

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"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."

Synthetic drugs seized by police. Photo / Waitemata Police
Synthetic drugs seized by police. Photo / Waitemata Police

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.

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"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."

Jones' death is still before the Coroner - along with about 80 others believed to be connected to synthetics.

In June 2018, Jonathan Gordon, 23, was sentenced to community detention and supervision for supplying synthetic drugs to Jones.

Police told the court it was "well known" that Gordon had supplied Jones "shortly" before his death.

"The defendant's actions cannot be attributed to the death of Calum Jones - but police submit the actions of the defendant helped to support and enable Mr Jones' addiction," the prosecutor told the court at Gordon's sentencing.

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Jonathan Gordon admitted supplying synthetic drugs to Calum Jones shortly before he died. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Jonathan Gordon admitted supplying synthetic drugs to Calum Jones shortly before he died. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Judge Noel Sainsbury said Gordon had not been charged with causing Jones' death.

"It is simply a charge of supply," he said.

"I am sentencing on the charge before me within the parameters it has, I am constrained by the parameters of that charge."

SHARE YOUR STORY WITH SHINE LAWYERS

If you have lost a loved one to addiction and struggled to get help or support similar to the family of Calum Jones - contact Shine Lawyers barrister and solicitor Pieter Venter by email on pventer@shinelawyers.co.nz