‘Support needed’ for addicts following ban

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The North Otago community will need to provide support for those addicted to legal highs once a ban comes into effect within the next few weeks, Waitaki District councillor Melanie Tavendale says.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced on Sunday that the Government would ban all synthetic drugs within two weeks until they could be proven to be low-risk.

The emergency legislation, which will see the removal of the 41 products that have remained on shelves since the Psychoactive Substances Act was passed, will be introduced when Parliament resumes on May 6 and will be passed under urgency.

Mrs Tavendale, who had previously voiced her concerns on the need for support for addicts, said people needed to ensure there were steps in place after the products were taken off shelves.

“We can’t just ban something and walk away from it.

“We don’t want to see anyone slipping through the cracks.”

The council had previously been drafting a legal high policy which might have involved a group being set up to support addicts, however, the policy would not be needed under this ban, she said.

“I still want to see a group set up.”

She said there was a problem with legal high addiction in North Otago and while she supported the banning, she would also like to see education and help available.

“It is a bit scary to me with it being chemical. I don’t think people really understand what they’re putting into their bodies,” Mrs Tavendale said.

Oamaru Hospital chief executive Robert Gonzales said the hospital had dealt with cases relating to legal highs from time to time but it was hard to tell how many, as often people were not honest with hospital staff.

“We treat them and once they’re OK again we let them back into the community,” he said.

They would often refer patients to community groups like the Community Drug and Alcohol Service, or even the police if crime was involved, he said.

“It goes on a case-by-case basis.”

He was pleased to hear about the banning, as patients who were affected by legal highs were often the most difficult to handle, Mr Gonzales said.

“It will make a significant difference.”

By RUBY HARFIELD

– Additional reporting APNZ