Legal high move 'better late than never'

Dave Cull
Dave Cull
A pledge to introduce legislation aimed at removing all remaining legal highs from shelves within weeks has been welcomed as ''better late than never'' by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull.

Mr Cull was commenting after Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne late yesterday announced legislation to remove all remaining so-called ''legal highs'' from sale would be introduced to the House on May 8.

The legislation was expected to be passed under urgency the same day and would come into force days later.

Mr Cull said the move was in line with the public's view that legal highs should be banned, not controlled, and it was ''better late than never''.

However, it also begged the question, as the Government had until now maintained it was not possible to simply ban the products and had instead ''abdicated responsibility'' to local governments to control them, he said.

''Up until now, we've been consistently told by the Government and Minister Dunne that it wasn't possible.

''I think it's good that it would appear the Government has found a way to provide what the public and various communities have been asking for.''

Toxicologist Dr Leo Schep, of the National Poisons Centre, in Dunedin, also welcomed the Government's move as an important step to protect young people.

However, he was also ''surprised it's taken that long'', given the ''groundswell'' of public concern at the impact legal highs were having on people's short- and long-term health, he said.

People trying to quit were having ''pronounced'' adverse effects, including ''severe, persistent vomiting to the point of blood'', and he was ''worried - really worried - about the long-term effects of these drugs''.

''The emerging chronic effects are what seriously concern me, and we're only just starting to see them now. For some people, that could be permanent health issues.''

Mr Cull said he had also heard numerous stories about the ''horrendous'' effects of legal highs.

The country had found itself in the ''ridiculous'' situation where a legal substance was more dangerous than cannabis, the illegal drug it had replaced for some.

While ''pleased a way forward appears to have been found'', Mr Cull also worried other products could yet emerge, or some users would find other, more harmful, ways to get high.

For that reason, Mr Cull said he supported reconsidering the legal status of cannabis, if it led to a better approach to minimising harm.

However, with more evidence of cannabis' impact on young people also emerging, Mr Cull stressed he had come to no conclusions about the merits of decriminalisation.

''We should be taking a broader view of all mind-altering substances and coming up with a sensible regime.''

However, Dr Schep said he would not support such a move, arguing cannabis was not without harmful effects.

''I don't think it needs a review.''

He said some users would find other ways to get high, ''but you have to put the brakes on''.

''By banning [legal highs], you're effectively putting the brakes on. You're also sending a signal out that these are not safe.''

 

Systems management in drugged communities

Well, if there are 'thousands' of acute cases in withdrawal shock, the medical systems must be strengthened, with additional staff and resources. That would be a positive outcome, I suggest. As 'getting high' is normalised in NZ, we hold out hope that health professionals, in particular surgeons, are not among those that ingest psychoactives or cannabis.

Swept under the carpet

I'm totally against legal synthetic highs, but has there been any consideration to the effects on the health systems ability to cope with the fallout of thousands of users going cold turkey. Toxicologist Dr Leo Schep, Synthetics are associated with a range of potentially serious physical and mental harms: rapid heart rate, agitation, seizures, psychosis, hallucinations, acute kidney injury, heart attacks and strokes. "What I've seen a lot recently, particularly in those who want to get off it ... is nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. I've noticed in the last month or two severe and persistent vomiting, to the point, sometimes, they are vomiting blood ... they can't keep fluids down, they can't keep food down."

These are his words not mine, I must state where in any medical literature is Herbal Cannabis described in such a way, being New Zealand's third favourite drug of choice for forty plus years and having been totally run by the so called criminal underworld, its safety record is un-paralleled, this better describing acute Alcohol dependency withdrawal symptoms.

If this situation is not managed carefully and it's left up to the black market to be the buffer in the first instance, what message does that send those that use these products, being that the emphasis of public concern has been one of health and safety for its many users.

This subject has polarized communities all over NZ resulting in arson attacks against store owners and hatred against ethnic groups targeted for the sale of these products, I have watched with great interest as the legal high industry developed, industry insiders have told me of strong sales in synthetic products on the black-market due to a loss in sales of their illegal products and this was prior to the banning of synthetics.

Synthetic drugs

Psychoactive drugs will continue to be sold legally following a temporary ban on synthetic drug sales. The temporary ban will continue until safety tests are completed, but the requirements of the safety test are, so far, undefined. My guess is that drug sales will resume following the General Election later this year. This will help protect National, Labour, Greens, Peter Dunne etc from the scrutiny they deserve for passing the law that legalizes these unwanted synthetic drugs. 

The proposed change only changes the timing of the implementation of the Psychoactive Substances Act, there is so far no proposal to listen to the citizens and make these drugs illegal. Our MPs so far have lacked the courage to do what's right for our country. Synthetic drugs need to be permanently banned. [abridged]

Dunne's about turn

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne was, as recently as last week, putting the onus on Local Government to do what Central Government is supposed to do. His about-turn can only be ascribed to the hard-hitting campaign by TV3's Campbell Live show who, over many nights highlighted the nonsense that this "legal high" industry is all about. The fact that Labour was also intending to introduce legislation only highlights Dunne's very bad record on doing his job in this area.

But Campbell Live has also showcased the hundreds of young people whose attitude was best summed up by several of those interviewed who essentially said that they chose to get high every day because they didn't have any other ambitions. Like it or not, but these people came across as wastes of space. None interviewed had jobs, they didn't want jobs, and they were poorly educated. They existed on hand-outs or from crime to get the money to buy something that would cement their position. What is to become of them?

Fantastic news

Fantastic news that at last these legal highs will be gone , my concern however is for all those addicted who will need help when they can no longer buy these. Help in Dunedin is not easy to find. 

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