31 Aug 2018

'We're human beings who have an illness'

9:11 am on 31 August 2018

Memorial services that educate people about drug addictions will be held at Salvation Army rehab centres around the country today to mark International Drug Overdose Awareness Day.

A male smoking using a homemade bong.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Synthetic cannabis is of particular concern as an estimated 40 to 45 people died from using the substance in the year to June, compared to two in the previous five years.

Salvation Army national director of addictions Lynette Hutson said the synthetic cannabis scourge highlighted the issue of drug overdose generally.

"People with an addiction will take the substance and just, I guess, hope for the best. That's the absolutely dreadful demon of addiction; people will use the substance without knowing what it's constituted of and what the strength is."

She said alcohol remained the most harmful substance in our society.

A recovering addict called Nicky, who is now 26 years sober and works in Salvation Army rehab, said the majority of people she encounters at her work have used synthetic cannabis.

"I'd say the majority of them - quite a large majority of them - have used them. They've all said they're really horrible to come off and they make them quite psychotic."

While she never used synthetics herself, Nicky overdosed twice on other substances and said people should realise that addicts are sick and shouldn't be dismissed as bad people.

"We're human beings who have an illness and if you're an addict, for God's sake there's help out there," she said.

Memorial services and events to highlight and educate people about overdose will be held at Salvation Army Bridge centres around the country today.

For information on drug overdose, you can visit the International Overdose Awareness Day website.

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