People in unstable living situations are most at risk of harm from synthetic cannabinoids. Photo by Andreea Popa on Unsplash.
No sooner do synthetic cannabinoids (sometimes called synnies) drop out of the headlines when a new spate of hospitalisations or deaths somewhere in New Zealand throws them back in the spotlight. The New Zealand Drug Foundation has teamed up with over a dozen organisations to support a Government multi-agency response.
Canterbury is the latest region to report a spate of Emergency Department admissions for synthetic cannabinoid overdose – some minor, others serious or fatal.
Paul Gee, Canterbury DHB Emergency Medicine Specialist, said toxicology analysis identified the substance taken was either AB-FUBINACA or AMB-FUBINACA which was linked to numerous other deaths in the past year. With little known about these drugs, many support services have felt unsure how to respond.
We have set-up a Synthetics Crisis page, and established partnerships with Police, Ministry of Health, ESR, and front line social service providers to undertake urgent survey-based insight gathering with people who use synthetics. The responses should provide valuable information to inform a wider, co-ordinated response.
Initial discussions with these organisations confirm that people in precarious living situations are most at risk. Young people may not be more affected than other age groups, but they could heavily comprise two user sub-groups – people avoiding a positive workplace drug test, and people not in either work or education.
Some examples of insights from initial conversations with organisations:
Combining initial insights with a harm reduction approach points us to interconnected responses such as an early warning system, widespread free drug-checking, guidelines for workplace drug testing, funding new treatment options, user outreach and one to one social assistance. Some of these responses will be explored in detail as we analyse the data gathered.
Drug harm experts say funding for a nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses is critical in the face of an increasingly toxic drug supply and the emergence of powerful synthetic opioids.
Survey participants also reported that barriers to accessing services, resources and information were high.
A group of powerful synthetic opioids that were first detected in the country just a year ago may have already been linked to several deaths.