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Late last week a lovely woman came unannounced to my office to offer me her support and some invaluable and alarming information on the effects of synthetic cannabis.
This courageous 24-year old has been undergoing treatment for addiction to these drugs which are sold ''legally'' in dairies around Dunedin and Mosgiel and are also known as party pills - Kronic, K2 and Spice. Her treatment has included hospitalisation. Alarmingly, she reports day patients are able to leave the hospital and buy these drugs at nearby dairies.
This is a huge issue for parents, for our children and for our community generally. I have been approached by schools deeply concerned that older students, or those who have left school, are purchasing them and passing them on to younger students.
Families are at most risk, as young people are often becoming aggressive and turning on their parents or siblings. Often, the police are only being called after an attack or disturbance, and they are only able to act as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. The Emergency Department is increasingly seeing youth being admitted and the National Poisons Centre, based in Dunedin is concerned.
Dr Leo Schep, a toxicologist with the centre, is calling for a total ban on these products as he is seeing the outcomes. At present, he is working on a study to support his concerns.
The Psychoactive Substances Bill, which has recently been introduced to Parliament by Peter Dunne, is finally looking like it may address the problem. It will mean all psychoactive substances will have to be approved by a regulatory authority within the Health Ministry before they are allowed to go on sale.
This is a huge change and is likely to eventually see the end of these substances as the onus will be on the supplier to prove they are safe. Set offences and penalties under the new Bill include up to two years' imprisonment for some offences, and fines of up to $500,000.
Labour will support the Bill but thinks it's not tough enough. We ask why, when it has taken so long to get the Bill before Parliament, the purveyors of these drugs will then be able to continue to get away with keeping them on the market long after the law is passed to ban them.
During the so-called ''transition period'', all existing products that have ''legally'' been on the market for at least six months before the enactment of the new regime can remain, provided there are no health concerns.
This, of course, is the crux of it all because we can see the health concerns in the emergency departments. Studies, such as Leo Schep's, will be invaluable work towards proving this. We will urge for the law's provisions to be fast-tracked and have these drugs off the shelves from day one. The ''transition period'', which lacks a stated time frame, is unacceptable.
Meanwhile, parents need to watch out for their children. Young people who are under age (18) appear to have no problem getting older kids to buy these products from the dairies around town.
According to teenagers I know, this is a common problem and dairy owners do not seem to care. The money they make overrules the ethical issues of harming children. Until the law is changed, we must be aware of this and stand up for our kids. If you use a local dairy which sells these products, boycotting it could be an answer to show your disgust.
If we are prepared to go in to bat for the plain packaging of cigarettes, if we are worried about the effects of underage drinking and binge-drinking on the developing brains of our young people then we should be seriously alarmed at the short-term and long-term impacts of imported synthetic toxic and addictive substances which can be bought along with the ice-cream cone at the local dairy.
This politician has woken up to the issue. And I hope anyone with children, grandchildren or friends with children will wake up too and challenge their local dairy on whether it sells these substances and if so, when is it going to stop?