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Date published: 11th August 2017 | Type: News

There have been over 20 deaths linked to synthetic cannabinoids in New Zealand since June this year. This is a public health crisis and the highest level of drug related deaths ever witnessed in this country.

These deaths were not inevitable and if this spike of deaths was linked to any other cause than drugs or any other population than those who are our most vulnerable in society we would be seeing action and government taskforces. Ignoring this issue or only having a Police response will likely see this unprecedented number of deaths rising.

Yes, these chemicals are often highly toxic but more can be done to protect people. We should be sending out warnings when a dangerous substance is identified, not keeping the information for months before releasing. We can be providing communities with information on what to look out for and what to do in an overdose. We can also help those who do experience harm with wrap around support and using a housing first model - not discharging people back onto the street with only a referral for support in a months.

This backgrounder to so we can be clear what we’re talking about when it comes to new synthetic psychoactive drugs (sometimes referred to as ‘synthetic cannabis’). Original article written by Russell Brown. Updated December 2017. 

Executive summary:

  • Synthetic cannabinoids appeared in Europe in 2005 and the following year in New Zealand.
  • The chemicals in illicit smoking packets in 2017 are different to – and very likely more dangerous than – those on the market before the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013, and those briefly regulated under the Act.
  • The recent "bad batch" in Auckland is likely to be "bad" because of the way it's dosed, rather than the presence of impurities or contaminants.
  • The wave of acute ED presentations and deaths in Auckland is not a nationwide problem. Even in Auckland, detox and services are seeing fewer people dependent on synthetic cannabis than they were in 2014.
  • Acute presentations have come in waves in other countries too.
  • Legalising natural cannabis now isn't likely to be a magic wand.

What is synthetic cannabis? Should we even be using that term?

How long has this been going on?

We've heard about possible toxic additives in synthetics: is that likely to be the problem?

What's the effect of these chemicals? Why do people take them?

Why do so many users need emergency treatment or even die?

Are there other health issues?

Where do these chemicals come from?

Would legalising natural cannabis fix the synthetics problem?

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