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Urgent response to drug deaths: accurate information is vital

Media release: 25 July 2017

Urgent response to drug deaths: accurate information is vital

The spike in hospital admissions and reported deaths in Auckland as a result of people taking unknown substances is not being helped by an information vacuum.

“It would much better for the NZ Police to share test results of the analysis of the synthetic cannabis that they've seized, so that we can actually, truly be honest to people about what's out there at the moment,” says Ross Bell, Executive Director.

“We know it will take time to establish the cause of those death attributed to ‘synthetic cannabis’, but samples of the drugs can be tested by ESR right now.

“Speculation about substances being adulterated with poisons like fly spray is irresponsible and only leads to confusion and mistrust.

“It is a tragedy to hear someone else has died overnight after taking these unknown substances. At a time like this, it’s not enough to simply say ‘don’t take these drugs “.

There are many harmful chemical compounds on the blackmarket that are known to lead to adverse reactions. More than 600 new psychoactive substances have been identified internationally in the last decade, and many are highly toxic and dangerous. Highly potent synthetic cannabinoids are imported and processed locally. Even a tiny variation in dose can cause disaster. This type of situation was predicted.

“It is tragic situation to see so many people coming to harm. We extend our sympathy to all those who have lost a family member or friend as a result of taking unknown substances,” says Ross Bell.

“I’d like to think we can respond with compassion and understanding, rather than the moralising we’ve been seeing. The best way to do this is to provide frank, accurate advice, not scare tactics.”

The need for good information has been recognised by many other countries due to the big changes in drug markets that have taken place in the last decade. Early Warning Systems monitor what is happening with new drugs, and then issue advice when dangerous drugs are found. A European-wide system has been running since 2005. Our National Drug Policy, released in August 2015, includes an action to develop such a system, something that is due to be completed this year.

“It is an urgent priority for the Ministry of Health to set up a full early warning system. However, in the meantime an interim process needs to be put place. This should involve central coordination and clear roles for both DHBs, Police and other agencies.

“Such a system would cover protocols for distribution of evidence-based, public health messages that do not stigmatise people in need of support.

“Regrettably, the situation with dangerous substances circulating like we’re seeing at the moment is likely to be repeated. We shouldn’t be caught out again. “


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