Police say they are committed to stopping the spread of synthetic drugs after the third sentencing in Rotorua in a year related to parents smoking synthetics in front of children.

The latest sentencing of a couple who smoked synthetic cannabis with their children in the car twice in a week followed two similar cases bought before the Rotorua courts in 2018.

In April last year a Rotorua woman was sentenced to six months' home detention in relation to two charges of ill-treatment of a child in August 2017.

The young mother consumed synthetic cannabis until she was in a "zombie-like" state and could not care for her two young children.


Then in September a couple was imprisoned for ill-treatment of a child.

The woman was jailed for 10 months and the man, who also faced an assault charge, for 19 months.

Their offending took place in January last year and saw them consume synthetic cannabis in the Rotorua CBD. They had a 2-year-old girl strapped to a stroller, dressed in a heavy sweatshirt on the hot summer's day and were found in a semi-comatose state.

Sores and insect bites were later found on the 2-year-old.

A fourth incident was also reported by the Rotorua Daily Post in October last year but the mother involved was not prosecuted.

In that instance, police were called to Western Heights after a woman was found slumped in her car, along with a young child, after taking synthetic drugs.

Police seized the drugs, took the woman's keys, and drove her and her young child home.

They contacted family to look after them and made a referral to addiction services.


At the time, Rotorua police area commander Inspector Anaru Pewhairangi said police officers had used their judgement in a good way to help the woman.

"I am proud of their choice of an alternative solution," he said.

"According to our good Samaritan, she was very nearly unconscious. If it wasn't for this helpful person, plus my forward-thinking staff, who knows how long the woman would have been sitting there for.

"It was a real demonstration of just how dangerous this drug is."

In a written statement this week, Pewhairangi said synthetic drugs were "extremely dangerous" and caused "significant harm".

"Any form of drug use in our community has a detrimental impact on individuals, their families and the wider community. We want people to get help from drug dependency, which in turn has a positive impact for themselves, their families and the wider communities."

Rotorua area commander Anaru Pewhairangi. Photo / File
Rotorua area commander Anaru Pewhairangi. Photo / File

Pewhairangi said police looked to help those affected by synthetic drug use through things like referrals to relevant agencies or educating the community about the dangers of psychoactive substances.

He urged those using synthetic drugs to seek help, and members of the public to call 111 if they thought someone had taken synthetic drugs.

"You can also contact your local police station or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111."

Symptoms of synthetic cannabis use are said to include immediate vomiting, loss of consciousness and violent behaviour.

Local Rotorua counsellors and psychologists said drug use impacted both children and parents.

Clinical psychologist Erin Eggleston said parents were a child's first role model.

"The obvious damaging aspect for children and youth is role modelling that drug use is good, okay or the way to deal with stress."

He encouraged people with drug problems to consult their GP for a referral to drug and alcohol services.

There have been three incidents involving synthetic cannabis an children before the Rotorua courts in a year. Photo / File
There have been three incidents involving synthetic cannabis an children before the Rotorua courts in a year. Photo / File

"Using drugs will generally lead to tolerance of the drug and then taking more to have the same effect. Over time, with sustained daily use, parents are at risk for neglecting their responsibilities as a parent and coming to the attention of child protection services."

Michael Coxon, an alcohol and other drugs counsellor and mental health worker at Korowai Consulting, said when synthetic cannabis first became prominent the drug and alcohol counselling service he was working for saw a "huge increase" in its use, and the devastating effects on clients of all ages who chose to use it.

"At that time referrals spiked within a week of its release onto the market, with reports from clients and families of increased dysfunctional behaviour and violence in clients who had little to no evidence of such actions prior to using synthetics."

Coxon said if parents smoked in the presence of their children, then surely the children would inhale it too.

"I would say it would have to have an effect ... if it affects the adults, then how could it not affect the kids?

"If you look at the cases of synthetic cannabis use and people being incapacitated by the effects, then what care and protection is there for the children with them, or for themselves for that matter."