18 Feb 2018

Doco shines light on NZ's synthetics crisis

From Sunday Morning, 11:22 am on 18 February 2018

A member's bill before Parliament would see a person convicted of supplying psychoactive drugs sentenced to eight years in prison, an increase on the existing two year sentence.

A short documentary about the dangers of synthetic drugs graphically shows the devastating impact synthetics have on users.

Journalist James Borrowdale spent time in West Auckland talking to young people either addicted to, or affected by, drugs known as synnies.

The result is Syn City: New Zealand's Synthetics Drug Crisis a documentary that follows 20-year-old addict Tammara.

It also features Trey Patterson who spoke out about the death of his friend Devonte Pierce last year.


Borrowdale says these drugs were available over the counter until 2013 and people became addicted at that time.

"The Psychoactive Substances Act came in and essentially banned all of them. That's when we saw the real rise in this black market and the unregulated product that is now on the streets."

Black market synthetics are stronger than the previous regulated version, he says.

"These drugs are being manufactured in such an unscientific way, there's really no way to ensure that kind of regulation."

The synthetics come mainly from China, he says.

Journalist James Borrowdale.

Journalist James Borrowdale. Photo: RNZ

"It comes into New Zealand in powder form from China - which seems to be the main exporter - and then it's broken down into some kind of agent here then just sprayed onto any kind of smokeable material."

But the spray can vary and so there are big variations in doses, Borrowdale says.

He says the government response to deaths caused by synthetics last year was inadequate.

When the crisis was at its worst last year, the then prime minister, Bill English, said something along the lines of personal responsibility is the best way to defend against this."

But this ignores the fact the drug was legal five years ago, Borrowdale says.

"It has a legislative history of being legal and then illegal so there should perhaps be more compassion for people who became addicted.

"There was no law against buying it."