Syn­thet­ics put 12 more in hos­pi­tal

‘Mum, I want to die’, a son ad­dicted to syn­thetic drugs told his mum when she pleaded with him to give them up. Within a year, the 24-year-old was dead, re­ports Sam Sher­wood.

The Press - - Front Page - Sam Sher­wood sam.sher­wood@stuff.co.nz

Twelve more peo­ple have been ad­mit­ted to Christchurch Hos­pi­tal this week af­ter tak­ing syn­thetic drugs, bring­ing the to­tal to 31 peo­ple in the past three weeks.

A Can­ter­bury District Health Board spokesman said three of the 12 peo­ple needed in­ten­sive care treat­ment.

Of the 31 peo­ple hos­pi­talised since Septem­ber 20 af­ter tak­ing syn­thetic drugs, six were ad­mit­ted to the in­ten­sive care unit, where two of the six re­main.

Two oth­ers are be­lieved to have died af­ter tak­ing the drug dur­ing the same pe­riod. It is un­der­stood they did not have hos­pi­tal treat­ment.

The ad­mis­sions prompted a crack­down, with po­lice raid­ing seven prop­er­ties and charg­ing seven peo­ple with sup­ply­ing psy­choac­tive sub­stances.

Dur­ing one of the search war­rants, po­lice found five peo­ple un­con­scious on the side of the road, one with an empty syn­thet­ics bag sit­ting on his back­pack. They found an­other man un­con­scious at the nearby deal house, which was set up like a shop, with pre-pack­aged syn­thet­ics for sale, cash, scales and mul­ti­ple cell­phones.

Sergeant Chris Barker, of Can­ter­bury’s of­fender pre­ven­tion team, said po­lice were see­ing a con­cern­ing trend of peo­ple pass­ing out af­ter tak­ing the drugs.

‘‘We don’t know what we can put that down to yet, we’re still wait­ing for re­sults to come back but it would be fair to say there’s ei­ther a new sub­stance or a bad batch or some sort of mix­ing go­ing on,’’ he said.

New Zealand Drug Foun­da­tion drug de­mand re­duc­tion pro­grammes man­ager Nathan Brown said syn­thetic drugs had caused a ‘‘pub­lic health emer­gency’’.

Since the Psy­choac­tive Sub­stances Act was in­tro­duced in 2014, more dan­ger­ous sub­stances with stronger ef­fects were be­ing sold on the black mar­ket, he said.

‘‘Drugs like this will keep com­ing, so New Zealand has to get pre­pared,’’ he said.

‘‘We can’t turn back the clock or wish these prob­lems away.

‘‘An ur­gent, com­pre­hen­sive re­sponse is needed with po­lice, hos­pi­tals, St John and so­cial ser­vices work­ing to­gether.’’

St John ter­ri­tory man­ager for Christchurch metro Craig Down­ing said last week there had been a ‘‘sub­stan­tial’’ rise in the num­ber of pa­tients us­ing syn­thetic drugs and the level of their ag­gres­sion.

Peo­ple us­ing syn­thetic drugs were un­pre­dictable and chal­leng­ing to man­age, he said.

‘‘Our staff are get­ting ex­posed to pa­tients who are act­ing out both phys­i­cally and ver­bally.’’

The last 48 hours of Roger Lu’s life were spent in a hos­pi­tal bed in China. He could not sleep. The hal­lu­ci­na­tions of demons, the con­tin­ual scream­ing and ag­i­ta­tion were too much. Even­tu­ally the blood ves­sels in his eyes would burst.

The 24-year-old’s mother had tried des­per­ately to get him off syn­thetic drugs. She took him to var­i­ous agen­cies, in­clud­ing the Christchurch City Mis­sion and Com­mu­nity Al­co­hol and Drug Ser­vices.

She sent text mes­sages to drug deal­ers to leave her son alone. It was to no avail.

Lu’s ad­dic­tion to syn­thetic drugs started more than a year ago, af­ter sev­eral years of smok­ing mar­i­juana with friends.

His mother, Amy Zhou, says the change in her son was al­most im­me­di­ate. He went from an in­tel­li­gent, ac­tive young man who reg­u­larly played bad­minton to ‘‘lazy’’ and un­in­ter­ested in any­thing other than his drug of choice: syn­thet­ics.

By this stage he was spend­ing about $420 a week on the drug, funded mainly via elec­tronic mu­sic he sold on a Chi­nese ver­sion of Face­book, WeChat.

His first se­ri­ous over­dose was in March.

Lu, who was board­ing with a woman in her 60s, was found un­con­scious by his mother at The Palms shop­ping cen­tre in the Christchurch sub­urb of Shirley, and taken by am­bu­lance to Christchurch Hos­pi­tal, where he re­mained for three days.

Zhou and her friend, Peter Sib­bald, who has known the fam­ily for about five years, went through Lu’s cell­phone and read text mes­sages be­tween him, his friends and drug deal­ers.

Ev­ery mes­sage was about one thing: their next drug score.

‘‘The three or four friends would mes­sage each other see­ing who has got the money, who has got the drugs, where can they get it from. They tended to share. If some­one’s got money one day, but maybe not the next, they’d share,’’ Sib­bald says.

Zhou and Sib­bald mes­saged sev­eral of the deal­ers, telling them to leave Lu alone. They re­ceived death threats in re­sponse.

Lu’s at­tempt to give up lasted three weeks; his ad­dic­tion was too strong.

He even­tu­ally changed the pin num­ber on his phone to stop his mother ac­cess­ing it.

Zhou told her son the drug was dan­ger­ous, but he did not care.

‘‘In his mind he didn’t want to give up, he was too ad­dicted,’’ she says. ‘‘I told Roger a lot of times, ‘you re­alise the drug’s very, very hor­ri­ble to you and your body, if you can’t stop you will die, do you know that’. He said, ‘oh mum, I want to die’.

‘‘I asked why and he didn’t an­swer.’’

Smok­ing in the air­port toi­let

In the end Zhou de­cided Lu needed a clean break. She ar­ranged for him to travel to China to stay with his fa­ther and other rel­a­tives so he could detox.

The day he flew out, a fam­ily friend was keep­ing an eye on him. He got high in a toi­let.

By the time Zhou and Sib­bald took Lu to the air­port he ap­peared to be OK, Sib­bald says.

‘‘He wanted to go to the toi­let at McDon­ald’s, came out wasted, wanted to go to the toi­let at the air­port, came out more wasted.

‘‘He left his pass­port at home so we came back [home] to pick his pass­port up. By the time of the sec­ond trip he was so wasted I’m sur­prised they let him on the plane.’’

Sib­bald says they con­sid­ered not al­low­ing him to leave, but be­lieved that if he stayed in New Zealand he would die.

Soon af­ter land­ing at Guangzhou Baiyun In­ter­na­tional Air­port the next day, Lu is be­lieved to have smoked syn­thetic drugs again.

He missed his con­nect­ing flight to Ji­nan, the cap­i­tal of China’s Shan­dong prov­ince. He called Zhou from the air­port, but he was not mak­ing sense.

His fa­ther bought him a sec­ond plane ticket, but when it came to Lu board­ing, po­lice were called be­cause of his er­ratic be­hav­iour. He was taken to a po­lice sta­tion be­fore be­ing ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal.

By the time Lu’s fa­ther ar­rived at the hos­pi­tal, he was suf­fer­ing hal­lu­ci­na­tions, say­ing he could see demons. Then came the scream­ing and ag­i­ta­tion.

About 48 hours later, the blood ves­sels in his eyes burst.

Sib­bald says Lu’s fa­ther re­ported that his whole face changed. ‘‘Roger was no longer even hu­man, but rather con­torted like that of an an­i­mal. He was con­stantly scream­ing and no longer could see or recog­nise any­one. He felt like his head would ex­plode.’’

Lu died about 48 hours af­ter be­ing ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal. His heart failed from a drug over­dose.

Sev­eral days later Zhou went to see Lu’s friends. She told them to learn from her son’s death – to stop tak­ing syn­thetic drugs.

New sub­stance, or bad batch?

Syn­thetic drugs are thought to have con­trib­uted to the deaths of 40 to 45 peo­ple since June last year. Be­cause Lu died in China, he is not counted among them.

Most peo­ple us­ing syn­thetic drugs have no idea what they are us­ing. Of­ten called syn­thetic cannabis, the sub­stances typ­i­cally con­sist of a smok­able plant ma­te­rial with a syn­thetic cannabi­noid ap­plied to it. The liq­uid form can be used in a va­por­iser.

The drugs, then called ‘‘le­gal highs’’, were banned with the in­tro­duc­tion of the Psy­choac­tive

Sub­stances Act in 2014 amid con­cerns they were highly ad­dic­tive and po­ten­tially de­struc­tive to health and men­tal well­be­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the New Zealand Drug Foun­da­tion, there are hun­dreds of syn­thetic cannabi­noids, all in­vented in the past 20 years. Like cannabis, they tar­get the cannabi­noid re­cep­tors in the brain. Those com­monly used in New Zealand in­clude 5F-ADB, ABFUBINACA, AMB-FUBINACA and JWH-122.

Sergeant Chris Barker, of Can­ter­bury’s of­fender pre­ven­tion team, has a sim­pler ver­sion: ‘‘They just throw a whole lot of chem­i­cals into a plant ma­te­rial and then deal it.’’

In Christchurch, two deaths and the ad­mit­tance of 31 peo­ple to hos­pi­tal – at least six of whom re­quired in­ten­sive care – linked to syn­thetic drugs since Septem­ber 20, prompted po­lice to raid six prop­er­ties and charge five peo­ple with sup­ply­ing psy­choac­tive sub­stances.

On their way to one, of­fi­cers found five peo­ple un­con­scious, or near to it, on the side of the road – one with an empty syn­thet­ics bag in his back­pack.

They found yet an­other man un­con­scious at the nearby deal house, which was set up like a shop, with pre-pack­aged syn­thet­ics for sale, cash, scales and mul­ti­ple cell­phones.

Barker says po­lice are see­ing a ‘‘con­cern­ing trend’’ of peo­ple pass­ing out af­ter tak­ing the drugs.

‘‘We don’t know what we can put that down to yet, we’re still wait­ing for re­sults to come back, but it would be fair to say there’s ei­ther a new sub­stance or a bad batch or some sort of

mix­ing go­ing on.

‘‘They’re not sci­en­tists, they’re drug deal­ers, so you re­ally are gam­bling with your life when you start buy­ing stuff from peo­ple who have re­ally no knowl­edge what they’re do­ing.’’

Barker says many users want to get off the drugs and know the dan­gers, but are ad­dicted.

NZ needs to pre­pare

Health Min­is­ter Dr David Clark wants syn­thetic drugs re­clas­si­fied to a Class A drug, along­side heroin and co­caine, so po­lice can ‘‘go af­ter the ped­dlers [and] in­ter­rupt the sup­ply of them into the com­mu­nity’’. That de­ci­sion is weeks away. Drug Foun­da­tion drug de­mand re­duc­tion pro­grammes man­ager Nathan Brown says syn­thetic drugs have caused a ‘‘pub­lic health emer­gency’’.

Since the Psy­choac­tive Sub­stances Act was in­tro­duced, more dan­ger­ous sub­stances with stronger ef­fects have been sold on the black mar­ket, he says.

‘‘Drugs like this will keep com­ing, so New Zealand has to get pre­pared. We can’t turn back the clock or wish these prob­lems away.

‘‘An ur­gent, com­pre­hen­sive re­sponse is needed, with po­lice, hos­pi­tals, St John and so­cial ser­vices work­ing to­gether.’’

The foun­da­tion was work­ing closely with more than a dozen or­gan­i­sa­tions and Gov­ern­ment agen­cies to get more in­for­ma­tion about the sub­stances, in­clud­ing a drug check­ing ser­vice.

‘‘The most vul­ner­a­ble need a lot of sup­port, like one-to-one as­sis­tance to get peo­ple’s life on track, ac­cess to treat­ment.

‘‘We also need to get ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion out there so peo­ple can make in­formed choices.’’

Roger Lu, 24, died in July af­ter over­dos­ing on syn­thetic cannabis.

GE­ORGE HEARD/ STUFF

Amy Zhou says her son went from be­ing an in­tel­li­gent, ac­tive young man to ‘‘lazy’’ and un­in­ter­ested in any­thing but tak­ing syn­thetic drugs.

Syn­thetic cannabis found dur­ing a re­cent search of prop­er­ties in Christchurch.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.