The human cost of substance abuse was bravely and
heartbreakingly recounted in this newspaper this week.
The Auckland-based parents of 27-year-old Josh Tunnicliffe,
whose body was found recently in the Dunedin Botanic Garden
with gas canisters nearby and whose death has been referred
to the coroner, described their decade-long attempt to stop
his huffing addiction.
Despite their tireless support of the "loved young man from a
good home", the way in which he died is proof that substance
abuse and addiction do not discriminate and can have tragic
consequences: "He died with so little, and on his own. He had
no backpack, no wallet, no socks, no underpants, no
toothpaste, no soap, and a 50c piece in his pocket," Mrs Lee
No-one can have been unaffected by the Lees' harrowing
account of their son's transformation from a sport-loving,
globe-trotting teenager with an "extraordinary life" full of
opportunities to a psychologically addicted user of inhalants
who wanted to stop the practice, was terrified of the
hallucinations he experienced when he was high, had failed to
hold on to work as a barista, and was sleeping rough far from
his home at the time of his death.
The Lees had tried every professional avenue to help him beat
his addiction, including using anti-addiction services,
community alcohol and drug counselling, doctor visits for
psychiatric referrals, Salvation Army services and even
approaching retailers in Auckland directly begging them not
to sell to Josh products that could be used as inhalants.
However, the couple were critical about support available,
saying they often had to wait weeks for appointments and the
support tended to focus on the family, not Josh's addiction,
and in the end they could not help him: "If I could have
bricked him up in a house in the back of a garden and pushed
food through a slot for him, I would have, but you can't do
that," Mr Lees said. "God help those people who do not have
There is no doubting the Lees' dedication to their son and no
doubting their struggles will be sadly echoed by parents
throughout the country, struggling with the lures and effects
of alcohol, drugs, legal highs and other mind-altering
substances on their children.
But the issue is not clear cut and involves many people at
many levels. Addiction is complex as health professionals
working in the area will testify, and there is likely to be
much debate in the health and social support sector - as in
any case - about what could have been done differently. The
political debate about the use of and availability of
alcohol, drugs, party pills and butane-based products - and
accessibility and retailer obligation - is also ongoing.
In September, some of the country's prominent retail chains
voluntarily restricted the sale of butane-based products to
minors following a spate of youth deaths and injuries from
huffing, including to two Mosgiel teenagers who were badly
burned by exploding lpg bottles.
And of course, after such cases, parental responsibility and
individual responsibility are always discussed as well.
But sadly, in this case, even with all the parental support
in the world, the lure of huffing has proven too powerful.
Mrs Lee said her son's huffing addiction had taken a
tremendous toll on the family. And it has sadly taken the
ultimate toll on a young life.
It is a tragedy for the family, friends and acquaintances -
and health professionals and support services staff. For
death never occurs in isolation, and its ramifications will
be felt far afield and for a long time.
The Lees should be commended for doing everything they could
for their son. Their actions no doubt did save his life for a
long time. They cared for him and showed it. And he must have
known that. But it is likely, despite that, they may still
feel they did not do enough.
And that too is a further tragedy - for given their story, it
appears nothing could be further from the truth.