Aussie drug ban prompted by death of Singapore-raised teen

SYDNEY - Australia has imposed a nationwide ban on the sale of 19 synthetic drugs following the death on June 5 of Sydney teenager Henry Kwan, a Singapore-raised student who jumped off a balcony and died after taking an LSD-like drug.

The 120-day ban, imposed on June 16 by the federal government, will allow states and territories to update their criminal law to ensure that synthetic drugs are permanently banned.

The Assistant Treasurer, Mr David Bradbury, said the synthetic drugs market was "fast-moving", and suppliers frequently changed brand names and packaging to skirt bans imposed under consumer laws.

The 19 drugs, which mimic the highs of illegal narcotics, will be banned under laws similar to those already in place in New Zealand and Ireland.

Synthetic, chemical-based drugs are supposed to copy the effects of existing narcotics and hallucinogens, but they are often cheaper and designed specifically to circumvent drug laws.

"Synthetic drugs are dangerous substances that can kill and should not be available for sale," Mr Bradbury said.

"They should be made illegal by all states and territories, and policed by law enforcement agencies, just like other illicit drugs, with appropriate criminal penalties."

The national ban came just a day after the funeral of Henry Kwan, 17, whose tragic death two weeks ago prompted a desperate appeal by his family for tougher drug laws.

His father, Mr Stephen Kwan, who is originally from Hong Kong, told The Straits Times that Henry had never taken drugs before and was given the drug - a hallucinogenic known as 25B-NBOMe - by a friend after he mentioned that he was tired from his studies.

Mr Kwan said Henry, who was in his final year of school, was one of the top students in his grade and planned to study law either in Sydney or at Harvard.

"We don't want any more broken families," said Mr Kwan.

"Young people will often try something. We are trying to speak out because we want to have stricter laws."

Henry's mother, Mrs Vanessa Kwan, from Taiwan, said she was home with her son on the afternoon he died and watched as he entered a terrifying state of psychosis.

The final-year student vomited and took off his clothes, and then suddenly got up and leapt from the balcony of their third-floor apartment.

"He was very scared," said Mrs Kwan. "He didn't recognise me or his sister. Then he said: "I want to jump.' I could only hold on to his leg, but he was very strong and I could not hold on."

Mrs Kwan said she was calling for a crackdown on synthetic drugs because "I don't want another mother to be like me".

"I can't sleep. I can't eat," she said.

Mr Kwan moved to Singapore with his family in 1999 to take up a job with telecommunications company Cellstar Pacific. Henry, who was born in Taiwan, was four when he moved to Singapore. He attended the Anglo-Chinese School before the family - including Henry's sister Michelle, now 14 - moved to Australia in 2010.

"Henry grew up in Singapore," Mr Kwan said. "He has a lot of close friends in Singapore. He visited every year and was there last Christmas."

Mr Kwan, who now distributes HeKleen sanitising water, said that, apart from tougher laws, he wants to see improved education about the danger of synthetic drugs, both in schools and among families.

"These drugs are very dangerous - families need to know how to deal with them," he said. "If they see any sign that their children have taken something, they need to call the police."

At the Kwans' home in Sydney's North Shore, which is surrounded by flowers and cards from well-wishers, the crackdown has been welcome, even though it has come too late for Henry.

"Henry was a very smart boy," said Mr Kwan.

"He was a top student. He was very popular… A lot of young people want to try new things, but they should never try these synthetic drugs."

jonathanmpearlman@gmail.com


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