Hawke's Bay police losing the battle to synthetic drug dealers

The spotlight has been turned on the Napier suburb of Maraenui recently, with many saying synthetic cannabis use is at crisis.

Newshub spent two days in the area speaking to locals to gain insight into what was going on.

Many say all too often the positive aspects of the community are ignored, saying many areas of New Zealand have problems with synthetics or "synnies". But others say it is a huge issue that is destroying many lives.

A 17-year-old woman tells Newshub while she has never tried it herself, it is all around her. She often finds family members "wasted" and convulsing on the ground when she gets home.

"There is never a time where I can actually communicate with my family," says the woman. "It breaks my heart."

Another Maraenui woman, aged in her early 20s, says she has been using for about eight years and has no plans to get off it.

"It makes me feel nothing, because you don't feel nothing; you just go numb and everything that's round you, you don't even care."

Asked what could be done to get her and others off the drug, she replies: "To be honest, the Government have taken too long. It's something that we rely on. It's been too long. Now there's some people that it's their daily thing. It's natural; it's part of their routine, and if you don't give us that we're going to break hell."

A number of people say they got hooked on synthetics when it became legal. When it was banned they turned to street dealers.

The problem is they never know what they're actually being sold. Police released a warning recently after a man died after smoking a bad batch.

Users and ex-users tell Newshub it's cheap - $20 a bag or two for $30 - and it's very easy to get.

Chris Jenkins, a former addict who is now a support worker for Whatever It Takes, says in some Napier suburbs there are one or even two dealers on every block.

"These shops are everywhere. Maraenui is definitely the area where it's extremely accessible."

The drug is also highly addictive. Police tell Newshub it can even be more addictive than meth.

Area commander Inspector Dave Greig admits police are losing the battle against synthetics drug dealers as gangs ramp up recruitment and become more sophisticated. He says the Mongrel Mob is responsible for the supply of almost all of the synthetics.

"Those at the top are mostly making most of the money," he says.

Insp Greig says extra Organised Crime staff will be brought in over next few years and he's hopeful that will make a huge difference.

While conviction rates for supply are low, Insp Greig says addiction is a health, not a justice, problem and he is focused on bringing down the big-time dealers.

Newshub didn't witness the huge numbers lining up to buy the drug in Maraenui, but did see several deals taking place out in the open. There was also what appeared to be a drug dealer being beaten up in his vehicle.

Many people in the community are doing their bit to create a positive shift, including health services and a church drop in centre. The local marae is working hard to engage with younger people.

Marae chairman Tiwana Aranui says authorities need to throw more support behind the grassroots efforts.

"Responsibility has to be taken back by the people that affect this community," he says.

A man who recently moved to the area to open pie shop The Pie Man says the synthetics problem was small compared to the positive aspects of the community. He says everyone is friendly and greets each other with a smile.

On Sunday Newshub looks at what support is being offered in the Hawke's Bay for synthetics addicts.