Lack of education to blame for spike in synthetic-related deaths - expert

A drug expert believes the Government has failed users, following a spike in the number of synthetic-related deaths in New Zealand.

An urgent, co-ordinated response is being planned following over 40 deaths related to the substances since June last year.

The Coroner's office told Newshub there have been 40 to 45 deaths which provisionally appear to have been caused by "synthetic cannabis toxicity" since 2017.

In the previous five years, there were two deaths linked to the synthetic drugs and others suspected but not yet confirmed.

In April, St John ambulances responded to 121 synthetic-drug related incidents - twice the number of the previous month. Synthetic cannabis is found right across the country, but there have been clusters of fatal toxicity - the first being seven deaths in quick succession in Auckland in 2017.

But Massey University's Chris Wilkins says some of those victims just needed a little more awareness.

"None of those young people wanted to die from using synthetic cannabinoid, so if there could have been some outreach to them earlier, maybe we could have had a better outcome," he told Newshub.

Professor Wilkins says we need to create a system to communicate to users in real-time, and believes a lack of education contributed to the deaths.

"Only now after we go through a long coroner's report we find out about it way too late, almost over a year later, and that's not going to help the people that subsequently died."

The Drug Foundation has also called on the Government to ask community providers what help they need and to have agencies co-ordinate so that information and warnings are shared about dangerous drugs.

Health Minister David Clark said it's "deeply concerning" to hear of the deaths.


Contact Newshub with your story tips: