'Turbulent' life of homeless man contributed to his death from synthetic cannabis - coroner

Warning - this article contains details which may distress some people. 

A coronial inquest has revealed the "turbulent" life of a homeless man who died alone on the floor after smoking synthetic cannabis.

Erin Patrick Kidwell died on 8 November 2017, aged 40, after a long night of drinking with his friends. The coroner's report, released on Friday, reveals Kidwell's friends heard him coughing and then a thud as he collapsed on the floor at around 3am.

No one thought to check on him, as this was considered "normal behaviour". 

"He would smoke synthetic cannabis then collapse on the floor before regaining consciousness," said Coroner Tania Tetitaha.

 "It appears it was expected he would get up afterwards."

Four hours later, Kidwell's friend found him face down in his own vomit on the floor. Believing he was asleep, the friend left him there. Half an hour later when they got up again and found him exactly as he was, the friend grew concerned and woke Kidwell's ex-partner.

She cleaned the vomit off him and tried to wake him - but soon realised he had no pulse.

Emergency services couldn't revive him and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The report said the odds were already stacked against Kidwell, who was considered at risk of dying from synthetic cannabis. 

An analysis of 84 coronial cases involving synthetic cannabis showed the most at risk are Maori men aged 40 or over, being treated for mental health issues and medical conditions. Homeless men and those with heart related illnesses are also more likely to die - all of these factors were at play in Kidwell's death, says Tetitaha. 

"He had a turbulent life. He was known to the criminal system, spending some time in prison and had charges of breaching bail.

"He also drank alcohol and used cannabis - his GP had a record of his using synthetic cannabis and methamphetamine in the months prior to his death."

Kidwell had heart and liver failure, type 2 diabetes and asthma as well as early stage dementia - and his homelessness meant storing his medication and receiving medical care was difficult.

"Overall, Mr Kidwell's life appears dysfunctional," says Tetitaha.

She says synthetic cannabis is often a drug of choice for New Zealand's vulnerable.

"The low cost and high potency of synthetic cannabinoids make them attractive to vulnerable groups with low disposable incomes - including the homeless...users should be made aware of the high toxicity and the risks they take when using this product."

Tetitaha says there is a need for "an all encompassing harm reduction approach" to reduce demand and supply, and give treatment to those who need it.