Agency links client spike to legal highs

A spike in the number of people seen in relation to legal highs has been experienced by Jigsaw Central Lakes, a non-profit agency which helps those affected by family violence.

Last year, legal-high laws came into effect, after which the number of clients dropped, Jigsaw team leader Fi Young said.

However, a recent trend which had ''come up in the last few months was the impact of legal highs".

Usually, the agency saw young men who had become aggressive after taking the highs, Ms Young said.

''It spiked just before they took those products off the market, then it dropped for a while; then the last couple of months we seem to have had a few [people] through.''

''I'm not sure if it's a new product that's kicked it up again.''

The aggression in the young men could sometimes result in physical incidents.

Ms Young said a big part of the centre's work was helping people work through psychological and emotional abuse but this could also eventuate in physical incidents which was ''another trend that we've noticed over the past three months''.

''We have had quite a number of [referrals over] serious physical assaults.''

Helping families deal with the separation of parents was also a common reason for people to seek help from the agency.

Jigsaw covers Queenstown, Wanaka, Cromwell, Alexandra, Glenorchy, Kingston, Roxburgh and Ranfurly. The majority of people helped are referred by the police, with self-referrals accounting for the second-highest percentage.

From July 2012 to July 2013, Jigsaw recorded 906 referrals compared with 835 for the previous year.

Since July last year there have been 437 referrals compared with 439 for the same period the previous year.

In January 2013, the Queenstown Times reported Jigsaw had recorded its busiest December to date.

Ms Young said December 2013 was slightly busier and this month was on track to match or have a higher number of referrals than January 2013.

Some of the referrals could be ''a simple call for information'' and the number recorded covers all the services offered.

January was in the middle of the busiest three months of the year for the agency.

Queenstown was, Ms Young said, just like any other town in New Zealand with a wide range of different incomes but ''the perception that everybody can afford to live here is incorrect''.

''We're still seeing a lot of financial stress within families. I don't think it's particular to Queenstown but obviously it's harder to survive in Queenstown and especially when couples or families break up it's really difficult to survive and bring up kids on a solo income.''

As a result, the centre was calling on the Salvation Army more to provide food hampers for some clients.

The agency was seeing less of a link with alcohol and family violence, which could be connected to financial reasons.