Syn­thetic drugs ‘dan­ger­ous epi­demic’

The Press - - Perspective -

In July last year, peo­ple around a sub­way station in Brook­lyn, New York, were con­fronted with an alarm­ing sight. Drug users who fre­quented the area had been turned into a tribe of ‘‘zom­bies’’. The af­fected peo­ple were wan­der­ing around star­ing va­cantly, stag­ger­ing, col­laps­ing. Some lay sprawled un­con­scious on the foot­path. The in­ci­dent quickly be­came a mass ca­su­alty emer­gency and 18 peo­ple were hos­pi­talised.

The so-called ‘‘zom­bie out­break’’ drew pub­lic at­ten­tion to an emerg­ing and pow­er­ful il­licit drug, iden­ti­fied as AMB-FUBINACA, which acts on the same re­cep­tors in the brain as cannabis but is vastly more po­tent. It is just one of a grow­ing num­ber of sim­i­lar type drugs.

The ‘‘zom­bie out­break’’ was widely re­ported, both in the me­dia and in med­i­cal lit­er­a­ture, and was made more fa­mous by videos on YouTube. But ev­ery­thing that hap­pened in New York, and worse, is now hap­pen­ing in New Zealand and it seems not enough peo­ple are pay­ing at­ten­tion.

New Zealan­ders are now dy­ing from this dan­ger­ous drug. Seven deaths in Auck­land in July were linked to AMB-FUBINACA. Coroners now say they are look­ing at a to­tal of pos­si­bly 20 re­cent deaths na­tion­wide.

In ad­di­tion to the deaths, St John Am­bu­lance has re­ported a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of non-fa­tal cases be­ing hos­pi­talised – some­times 20 a day just in Auck­land.

Po­lice last week asked peo­ple to stop call­ing the drug syn­thetic cannabis, and it is easy to un­der­stand why. The name sug­gests some sort of be­nign her­bal sub­sti­tute, but AMB-FUBINACA is any­thing but. Its com­pound is very dif­fer­ent to THC, the ac­ti­vat­ing in­gre­di­ent in cannabis.

It was de­vel­oped by the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try, but aban­doned. It seems to have not been tested on hu­mans. It is pro­duced il­lic­itly over­seas in a pow­dered form, then mixed with a sol­vent and sprayed onto veg­etable mat­ter to be sold as a drug that looks like cannabis.

There are no con­trols there­fore on the man­u­fac­ture of the drug nor on how it is ap­plied to plant ma­te­rial, lead­ing to highly vari­able po­ten­cies.

The scourge of syn­thetic cannabi­noids has been grow­ing in New Zealand since the mid-2000s. Med­i­cal re­search sug­gests that as time goes on, more and more peo­ple are us­ing them, and they are caus­ing more harm.

New Zealand tried to reg­u­late ‘‘le­gal highs’’ un­der the Psy­choac­tive Sub­stances Act in 2013, which al­lowed cer­tain tested and ap­proved sub­stances to be sold un­der strict con­trols. Doc­tors re­ported fewer pre­sen­ta­tions to men­tal health ser­vices in the three months af­ter the act was passed.

But the reg­u­la­tory regime fell apart the fol­low­ing year amid pub­lic out­cry that untested drugs were be­ing sold, and be­cause ap­prov­ing the drugs in­volved an­i­mal test­ing.

Po­lice and Cus­toms last week seized enough syn­thetic cannabi­noids to make 75,000 doses.

But en­force­ment ac­tion is un­likely to cut off sup­ply, and a reg­u­la­tory sys­tem has been tried and failed. It is time now for peo­ple to see the use of syn­thetic cannabi­noids drugs for what it is – a pub­lic health cri­sis. A dan­ger­ous epi­demic.

That means com­mu­ni­ties tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for what is hap­pen­ing in their midst, con­vinc­ing vul­ner­a­ble or im­pres­sion­able peo­ple to avoid us­ing the drugs and in­form­ing the po­lice about who the deal­ers are.

That may go against the grain for some peo­ple, but this is a deadly con­ta­gion which has to be stopped.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.