[ Skip to main content ]
This article is over 3 years old

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.

Opinion: Share the data, then let's get on with changing what is broken

The tragic deaths in Auckland that were likely caused by novel psychoactive substances serves as a wake up call. Read More

Urgent response to drug deaths: accurate information is vital

The NZ Drug Foundation is calling on the NZ Police to release test results for substances suspected of leading to deaths of eight people in Auckland. Accurate is vital to an appropriate response. Read More

Did You Know: The facts about synthetics

did you know synthetics web thumbnail

Our new Did You Know video and poster explain what synthetic psychoactive substances are, why they are so unpredictable and dangerous, and how people who use them despite the risks can keep themselves safer. Read More

This article is over 3 years old
Share this article:
The Level promo

Straight up guide for people who use drugs

The Level is for real people, in real life, whatever level they are at.

The Level

social graphic subscribe

Subscribe to email updates

Get regular news, analysis and commentary on drug issues in New Zealand. Free.

Sign up now!

Back to top