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Research tracks the impact of cannabinoids

A two year research project tracking the tragic impact of synthetic cannabinoids in New Zealand has found clear geographical differences in substance use, especially among those drugs linked to fatalities.

An ESR project, which started in July 2017, found a range of new psychoactive substances in the local drug market and tracked clear regional differences in the substances being used.

ESR’s Forensic Toxicology Manager Dr Mary Jane McCarthy says the research showed one drug - AMB-FUBINACA - was detected in the bulk of the drug related fatalities referred to the coroner in the north of New Zealand.

Conversely, fatalities linked to synthetic cannabinoids in the central and southern parts of the country were spread among a range of different substances.

“Over the two years of the project we detected synthetic cannabinoids in 90 deaths referred to coroner that may be linked to use of these drugs.”

“Of those cases over 80% were linked to AMB-FUBINACA, recently reclassified with Class A drug status.”

Dr McCarthy says the research detected a range of synthetic cannabinoids during the two year survey, with different patterns of use potentially the result of the illicit drug supply chain.

She says the data gathered was the result of working closely with New Zealand Police, Customs and the Ministry of Health.

“Our data was used to inform and assist health and enforcement agencies to tackle the harm being caused by these dangerous drugs.”

Dr McCarthy says ESR’s surveillance of synthetic cannabinoids is part of a worldwide response to the synthetic substance crisis. She says ESR is a contributor to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) and receives regular updates on new substances coming into the market.

Three ESR staff have recently returned from a forensic toxicology conference in the UK where recent trends in the constantly changing synthetic substances market were being observed and shared.

“Being able to share our data within New Zealand and internationally is helping us predict, prevent and protect New Zealand communities. “

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