THEY sent their son to his grandparent’s so they could smoke their synthetic cannabis in peace.
They fell $2000 behind in rent, ignored bills, pawned possessions and fought like cat and dog over who should go out and get more money when they ran out of drugs.
Then, after two years of addiction this Hunter couple took the hardest step of their lives and weaned themselves off their synthetic cannabis habit.
Casey phoned the Newcastle Herald on Sunday after reading Saturday’s article about a Newcastle family who turned over $800,000 in six months selling home-made product to a wide roster of adult shops and tobacconists.
He disputes the Newcastle maker’s claim to have ‘‘safe’’ products, saying the only safe products he had found were the ones that ‘‘did nothing’’, and even they ‘‘were hard on our lungs’’.
He believes the government’s GST take was a reason it took so long to outlaw ‘‘obviously dangerous products’’ – a claim dismissed by Fair Trading NSW.
‘‘One shop owner I got to know told me he bought two houses off the first year of selling synthetics, and that’s with paying $250,000 GST,’’ Casey said.
Casey and his fiancee Kerry (not their real names) were casual marijuana smokers until two years ago when a friend who worked in a Newcastle adult shop encouraged them to try some ‘‘legal’’ cannabis.
‘‘We bought seven grams for $80 or $90,’’ Casey said.
‘‘The first thing both of us said was that we couldn’t believe this is legal. It was like pot but 10 times stronger.’’
Casey said it quickly came to dominate their lives. They smoked all day when their son was at school and then began to farm him out to a grandparent at weekends.
‘‘I told myself it was because he was an only grandchild and it would be good for him and his grandmother to be together but I knew that really wasn’t the reason.’’
Kerry says they were spending $80 to $150 a day or more on synthetic cannabis, trying new types as they developed tolerances to the ones they were on.
‘‘I was borrowing money from my mum every day,’’ Kerry said.
Casey said the turning point came when their son came to them one day and begged them to stop fighting.
The police had already been called to the house ‘‘two or three times’’ by neighbours concerned at their ‘‘verbal’’ fighting.
Luckily, their son’s plea coincided with the national ban on synthetics in June.
Casey said the first few weeks of going ‘‘cold turkey’’ were hard.
He has resumed smoking cigarettes but neither he nor Kerry have touched any other drugs or alcohol.
Having locked themselves in their own ‘‘paranoid’’ world for two years, they say they are re-establishing their links with families and friends.
Both have put on weight.
‘‘We were so thin we looked like drug addicts,’’ Casey said.
They have their finances back in order, having paid all their bills including $2000 in back rent to an ‘‘understanding’’ landlord.
‘‘We had the TV, video games, everything in hock, and we just got the last thing back out last week,’’ Casey said.
‘‘We gave ourselves a pat on the back for that.’’
Synthetic drug stats uncertain
DESPITE a wealth of anecdotal evidence about the impacts of synthetic cannabis, hard statistical evidence appears difficult to find.
Since an interim 90-day ban on the products in early June, adult shops and other retailers have been ordered to stop selling such products, with Fair Trading squads fanning out across NSW to enforce the new laws.
Law-enforcement and health authorities have both reported fewer problems with synthetic drugs.
When the Newcastle Herald sought detail from Hunter New England Health last week, a spokesperson issued a statement outlining ‘‘the reasons why it’s challenging for all health services [not just Hunter New England Health] to comment on synthetic cannabis’’.
‘‘In the past few years our services have cared for a number of patients we believe may have used synthetic cannabis,’’ the health service said.
‘‘Due to the constantly evolving chemical make-up of these different drugs it is challenging to pinpoint the exact rates of use and how the Hunter compares to the rest of the state.
‘‘We are yet to understand the ongoing effects caused by these drugs, and they should not be considered any less harmful, or any safer an option than other drugs, including regular cannabis.’’
The Herald had asked the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service about the legality of importing potential ‘‘precurser’’ chemicals from overseas.
The service responded by saying the customs agency worked with other agencies to enforce state and federal laws.
After the Herald’s front page report on Saturday, which highlighted the GST tax take from synthetic drugs manufacturers, a Fair Trading NSW spokesman said GST was not a consideration in the decision to implement the interim product safety ban on synthetic drugs.
‘‘The state government acted immediately upon the release of the parliamentary report outlining the impact of synthetic drugs and their dangers,’’ the spokesman said.
He said the 90-day ban would be extended for another 30 days and the state and federal governments were working on a permanent legislative solution.