End poverty and people won't smoke synthetics - campaigner
Entrenched poverty is behind the synthetic cannabis epidemic, it has been claimed.
Seven Aucklanders have died from the psychoactive drug in the last month, and in just the last week, ambulance officers have been responding to up to 23 incidents a day.
Auckland Action Against Poverty's Alastair Russell says those stuck below the poverty line turn to such drugs out of hopelessness.
"If you are looking at employment that offers you low wages, low conditions, no security of hours and no way forward, then you are effectively excluded from the 'rock star economy' the Government keeps on talking about."
Mr Russell says the Government must commit to measures to address poverty and health underfunding if it wants to reduce drug-related harm.
"At the absolute root of the problem is a system that doesn't care. There is no intention of addressing poverty," he told Newshub.
"Mental health is vastly underfunded - has been for a very long time. The outcomes of that are all too predictable, and very, very sad and tragic when they do occur."
He wants the Government to invest in more safe, affordable homes, and lift the incomes of beneficiaries and those below the poverty line.
So far, the only major political party which has proposed a significant boost to beneficiaries' incomes is the Greens.
Police are investigating the deaths, and doctors at Auckland Hospital have been called to a crisis meeting on the matter.