31 Jul 2018

Synthetic cannabis crisis: 'Let's not have a Remuera answer for the backstreet of Ōtara'

9:30 am on 31 July 2018

A cross-party solution is needed to stem the synthetic cannabis crisis, acting Prime Minister Winston Peters says.

Mr Peters said governments had tried and failed to address the issues around the drug and political wrangling needed to put aside.

A male smoking using a homemade bong

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Winston Peters has told the ministers of health, justice, police and customs to put their heads together with their agencies to find the best solution to the spike in deaths from the drug.

Provisional figures from the coroner show between 40 - 45 people died in the year since last June - in the previous five years there were two confirmed deaths.

Winston Peters told Morning Report action must be taken urgently.

"If we missed something here, which I suspect we have, because out on the street the people we need to get to and the offenders we need to find have escaped us so let's put our heads together, analyse everything we've got and talk to people out there on the streets ... then set out to do far better than what we have been doing.

"The purveyors of poison have got to be stopped and the people who are tempted because of their degraded lives to take it ... need to be persuaded somehow that this is not a good idea. That you can't risk a pill that somebody gives to you because it sounds like it might be okay."

Mr Peters was not sure if that meant a greater crackdown.

"We have failed to get on top of it and I hope in the next six months we will.

"It's seriously complicated - but let's not have a Remuera answer for the back street of Ōtara.

"What I hope we can come up with using the best information that we have, is a cross-party solution that actually works ... and on this issue as fast as possible."

Executive director of the Drug Foundation Ross Bell said his fear was that officials would look at policy responses or suggest tougher penalties - neither of which was a solution.

"We need action on the ground now, if you see a lot of the community voices, the parents who have suffered tragedy here, they're not looking for policy responses, they're not looking for tougher penalties, they are are looking for help now on the ground."

Mr Bell said there were practical things that government agencies could be doing now, or should have been doing last year in response to this.

He said part of that was sharing information much more quickly.

"So that St John Ambulance for example, knows what the hell is going on, getting resources on the ground, helping those communities that are experiencing these issues, getting resources there around harm reduction, drug treatment and making sure people who need help don't have to sit on a waiting list for so long."