Zealandia

Highlights From Our 'Syn City' Preview Screening

Here’s what addicts, survivors and drug policy experts have to say about NZ's synthetic drugs crisis.

by VICE Staff; photos by Joe Hockley
19 February 2018, 5:22pm

Our latest documentary goes deep with those in the midst of New Zealand’s synthetic drugs crisis. For the launch of Syn City, we held a panel with Trey and Tammara, both of whom are recovering synthetics addicts. They were joined by Community Action on Youth and Drugs advisors Joy Davidson and Raquel Barbiellini to discuss what’s happening on the ground and at a policy level to halt the wave of black market ‘synnies’ that was linked to the deaths of at least 25 people last year. Here’s what they had to say.


Panelists (from left) Raquel Barbiellini, Joy Davidson, Tammara and Trey with moderator VICE journalist James Borrowdale.

“I hate it with a passion.” Trey

“I wanted to speak out about it because it took my best friend away from me. It took one of my closest people I’d ever bonded with—he had big dreams and stuff. And one day he smoked it and it killed him. I hate it. I hate it with a passion, I really do.”

Tammara (centre) with 'Syn City' associate producer James Borrowdale and producer Ursula Williams.

“When I was on it that’s all I was ever thinking about.” - Tammara

“What’s to say that our voice will make a difference when our parents told us not to do it? If you tell someone stop smoking to do you think they will listen? They’re addicted. Do you know how many family members I've seen tense up and just fall on the ground, smash their heads fall on the ground, and they just get up, come out of that buzz and have more synthetics? When I was on it that’s all I was ever thinking about. Just my next hit, when am I gonna get my next hit?”

“It’s not rich people who are dying” - Raquel Barbiellini

“There’s also a social justice side of it. It’s quite easy and cheap to produce it, and when you have a black market when drugs are illegal, and people with access to drugs, there've been these deaths. We know that richer people have access to better drugs – that's the reality. And kind of groups have been using it, because its cheaper—it’s not the expensive drugs [that are killing people in these numbers]. There is a lot of stigma around using drugs in New Zealand and when you talk about such a marginalised group of people that really the services will need to got to? That’s a real justice issue.

“I feel like I’m a different person”- Trey

“I’ve been off it for like 2 years. And when I’m on it, I feel like I'm a different person - I feel like I can't control my own body. And when I’m off it I’m more motivated, I feel more normal you know. I feel like i can do stuff that i actually dreamed of doing when I was on synthetics.”

“We think it's going to be increasing in the market.” - Raquel Barbiellini

“The majority of young people who have tried it, have not gone back. So they've tried, it's been a bad buzz, or they've seen someone have a bad buzz and haven't gone back. A smaller group have been using more regularly—with really similar stories to Tamara and Trey in terms of the effects of it. I think a lot of young people in particular have been quite fearful. They’re seeing a whole lot of things being put on facebook, lots of people taking photos of friends or filming friends having a bad response and putting it out. So the majority of people who think it’s bad and know it’s bad are staying away. But it’s still in the market, and we think it's going to be increasing in the market.”