Image: Stuff Risk of death from synthetic drug use can be significantly reduced if the system gets it right, the head of a Maori public health provider says.
As of August 1 this year, 10 people are believed to have died as a result of using illegal synthetic drugs within the space of one month. And without a law reform these "tragic" numbers may become worse, Hapai Te Hauora Tapui chief executive Lance Norman said.
Norman said the scale of the problem suggested it was time to regulate synthetic drugs. "Anything not regulated, by default is going to have issues because there are no rules or regulations on what a product can include." The currently illegal drug contained "synthesised chemicals" and other unknown ingredients, he said. Once regulated, the substances could be sold under guidelines on who could buy and sell the product and what would be included in it, he said.
But Norman said the first step was to get the terminology right. The "concoction" currently being sold illegally was not cannabis, he said. "It is unhelpful to relate these drugs in any way to cannabis, which is non-toxic and adverse physiological reactions are rare." Norman said the framework of understanding the issue needed to change as well. At present those struggling with drug addiction found themselves with a conviction as opposed to a "health and social response".
Norman said the most urgent need was to prevent any further deaths from these "potent" drugs. And this meant creating awareness in the community. "They [police] need to let us know what these drugs looks like, where they [police] think these were purchased." It was important for agencies such as Hapai Te Hauora Tapui to know more the nature of the product out in the market so could alert the community, he said.
Norman said a "head in the sand" approach would not work because those already addicted needed to avoid the potentially deadly substances. Warnings such as "don't do drugs" were not enough to deter users, he said.
Norman said the recent deaths from synthetic drugs highlighted a "desperate need" for a "multi-agency early warning system". "This would monitor emerging drug trends and communicate any concerns around the country at the earliest point possible." "This is an action under the National Drug Policy and we need to prioritise this."
Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.