Education key to preventing harm

A Queenstown police officer says education is the key to preventing further harm in the community by users of psychoactive substances.

Constable Craig Gibson spoke at a community meeting, organised by the Queenstown Lakes District Council, to discuss the illegal ''legal highs'' and seek community input steps to take to restrict their sale in the district.

He said the products had been ''the excuse for every crime in the past year''.

''Because it was legal, people would be smoking it in the street, outside the pubs in their cars.

''We were really scrapping with them about an hour after they were smoking it.

''They wake up in the cells [wondering] what am I doing here? - [a couple of hours earlier] they were on a huge bender and it took three cops just to get them into the car.

''We've had some horrendous events in Queenstown that you won't read about in the media ... because they are very personal matters.

''A lot of families have been blown apart by a user.''

Const Gibson said users often found themselves in debt and stole from family members to pay for the products.

Families then had to make a choice between tough love or ''cutting the cord''.

''It's absolutely devastating.''

He said the key to stopping the cycle in Queenstown was to educate children and young people about the products, the side effects and the long-term consequences.

People used the products because they were legal and therefore ''safe''.

''If a dairy sold silver paint as a high, we'd be down on them. Butane - gas cookers; people die [and] it's a legal high.

''The only thing that's really going to stop it is education ... before it's too late.''

Const Gibson said education started with teaching children to say ''no''.

''You do have a choice. It isn't a rite of passage - [to] get high or get smashed on alcohol.

''Everyone has choices ... there are consequences to your choice [and] the consequences [of psychoactive substances] are devastating.''

Another public meeting will be held in Wanaka tomorrow before a report is prepared for the council, the first step in forming a plan to control the sale, distribution and use of the substances.

Under current law the council cannot ban the substances, but can control where they are sold under a bylaw, a Local Approved Product Policy or under the district plan.

• The Wanaka forum, in conjunction with the Wanaka Alcohol Group, will be held tomorrow at 7pm at the Lake Wanaka Centre.