Government's inaction on synthetic drugs 'staggering' - doco maker

  • 20/02/2018

The investigative journalist behind a documentary about the effects of synthetic drugs in west Auckland says the Government has failed to protect at-risk Kiwis.

'Syn City' - a new episode in Vice's New Zealand-based series Zealandia - is released today and James Barrowdale, the journalist behind it, says it shows just how debilitating 'synnies' are to those addicted to them.

And Mr Barrowdale told The AM Show on Tuesday that the Government is to blame for not stepping in sooner, calling its inaction "staggering".

That's echoed by the show's producer, Ursula Williams, who said Vice was inspired to make the documentary after hearing former Prime Minister Bill English say the best defence to addiction was taking "personal responsibility".

"It seemed like a strange abdication of governmental responsibility, given Parliament's muddled reaction to synthetics - making it first legal and then illegal, with little in the way of an action plan for those already addicted - has undoubtedly contributed to the problem.

"In the wake of those decisions, people's lives have been ruined, scarred, and even ended. We wanted to give a voice to those people."

Mr Barrowdale says given the prevalence of synthetics and addicts' desperation to bring attention to the problem, it was relatively easy to find people to appear in his documentary.

"This issue's affecting a lot of people," he said.

"This addiction is fairly debilitating. One of the subjects in the documentary said she couldn't go for half an hour without smoking synthetics.

"Any appointment she had, she would have to bookend with an immediate smoke - it just became a logistical nightmare.

"There are people who definitely struggle with this drug and it takes a toll on people's lives."

Mr Barrowdale said it's dosage and lack of regulation that makes synthetics so dangerous, not the chemicals in the drugs themselves.

"Because the way they're made is so unscientific, it seems, you never know how strong the product you're getting is," he said.

"If it's really strong, you could end up catatonic, as we've seen in the videos - having fits and seizures and stuff."

Mr Borrowdale thinks the addicts, who he tried to "humanise" in 'Syn City', are taking their lives into their own hands every time they use synthetics.

"I think it's just the unknown, because of the unregulated nature of it - just the unknown dose you're taking each time, you don't know how strong it is."

"People with knowledge of both drugs say it's harder than heroin to give up - so it's obviously incredibly addictive.

"[People who try to wean themselves off it suffer] extreme nausea, anxiety, depression - just classic withdrawal symptoms."

The current Government has launched an inquiry into mental health and addiction issues, which it says will cover synthetic drugs.

Health Minister David Clark says he will not be launching a separate inquiry into synthetics.