Decriminalise synthetics: Health expert's call as death toll rises

A public health academic believes it shouldn't be a crime to use synthetic drugs.

There's been a spike in deaths linked to synthetics in New Zealand. In July, it was revealed 45 deaths over the last year were linked to synthetics.

AUT psychology and public health Professor Max Abbott says incarcerating people is more likely to be a health hazard than decriminalisation.

"It's totally outrageous that we've had something like 50 people kill themselves this past year with so-called synthetic cannabis," he told RadioLIVE on Tuesday.

Both Police and the Ministry of Health (MoH) are calling for a health response to encourage more people to seek help.

The MoH says it's not aware of any evidence that increased penalties deter use and supply.

But despite this, the Government has promised a major crackdown and to reclassify synthetics as class A drugs.

"Reclassification would increase maximum penalties," says Health Minister David Clark.

"The primary motivator for reclassification would be to ensure that we have those wider search and surveillance powers so that we can interrupt supply."

Prof Abbott warns that hardline criminal penalties regarding synthetic usage will only cause more damage.

"If what goes with that is a very harsh response to people who use those substances then I think that's totally counterproductive."