Thursday, August 3, 2017

Synthetic cannabis: The danger drug overwhelming New Zealand

Synthetic cannabis: The danger drug overwhelming New Zealand

New Zealand is being overwhelmed by synthetic cannabis - and authorities can't keep up, a report warns.
As many as 10 deaths in the past month are believed to be linked to the highly dangerous substance in Auckland alone.
Authorities are struggling to cope with the damage the controversial drug is inflicting on communities across the country, according to an official report from the National Drug Intelligence Bureau.
Synthetic cannabis is extremely dangerous to the human body, and has claimed as many 10 lives for the month of July in ...
NZ POLICE
Synthetic cannabis is extremely dangerous to the human body, and has claimed as many 10 lives for the month of July in Auckland alone.
The drug bureau's report paints a grim picture of a drug that is cheap to manufacture, easy to buy - and one that can have deadly consequences for the end-user.


DEALING VERSUS DISTRIBUTION - WHERE IS IT COMING FROM?
Police seized batches of synthetic cannabis during a raid in Avondale, West Auckland.
NZ POLICE
Police seized batches of synthetic cannabis during a raid in Avondale, West Auckland.
The report identifies the Mongrel Mob as heavily involved in the distribution of synthetic cannabis in some regions.
It is believed they have started manufacturing their own product in order to increase and retain control of the supply chain.
Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are the main centres for distribution.
The report identifies the Mongrel Mob as the driving force behind much of the manufacture and circulation of New ...
STUFF
The report identifies the Mongrel Mob as the driving force behind much of the manufacture and circulation of New Zealand's synthetic cannabis.
Almost all consignments headed to Auckland were destined for addresses in Counties Manukau, where a recent police raid uncovered three kilograms of the substance.
However, many of the groups responsible for dealing to the end-user aren't affiliated with a particular gang or motorbike club, the report said. 
Police Association president Chris Cahill described the method as a "scatter gun" approach, similar to what police experienced when Contact NT - the pre-cursor to methamphetamine - was flooding the market. 
A photo of synthetic cannabis taken during a police search at a house in Porirua.
NZ POLICE
A photo of synthetic cannabis taken during a police search at a house in Porirua.
"Small to medium amounts are sent to multiple addresses, which are very hard to intercept."
He said dealers work on the theory that even if only 50 per cent of the product gets through they can still make a profit. 
"It's challenging for police because these products are easy to buy over the internet [and] can be concealed.
Police Association President Chris Cahill is alarmed by the number of deaths linked to synthetic cannabis.
MAARTEN HOLL/STUFF
Police Association President Chris Cahill is alarmed by the number of deaths linked to synthetic cannabis.
"And because the ingredients are so cheap we're seeing lots of people setting up business," Cahill said.
Making synthetic cannabis is relatively inexpensive:
Plant material is easy to source and no great amount of equipment is required.
A confidential report found most of the synthetic cannabinoids used to make synthetic cannabis ends up at addresses in ...
FAIRFAX NZ
A confidential report found most of the synthetic cannabinoids used to make synthetic cannabis ends up at addresses in Counties Manukau in Auckland.
It is possible to produce a kilogram for less than $300, with that amount fetching as much as $10,000 when sold wholesale.
One of the challenges for law enforcement is that penalties for offences are low - making it an appealing industry for manufacturers. 
WHERE DOES SYNTHETIC CANNABIS COME FROM?
Trey Patterson (left) pictured with Devonte Pierce. Police are investigating Pierce's death in relation to synthetic ...
SUPPLIED
Trey Patterson (left) pictured with Devonte Pierce. Police are investigating Pierce's death in relation to synthetic cannabis use.
The report says the products used to make synthetic cannabis principally come from Spain and China.
In recent times, products have also originated from the Netherlands.
The chemicals used in the manufacturing process are almost always seized at the border, while the finished product is usually seized in the community. 
Unlike its floral counterpart, synthetic cannabis is not a naturally-occurring product.
GRANT MATTHEW/FAIRFAX NZ
Unlike its floral counterpart, synthetic cannabis is not a naturally-occurring product.
In the first six months of 2017, six kilograms of synthetic cannabinoid powder was seized at the border, spanning 25 separate incidents.
This amount was enough to make 120 kilograms of the product - 40,000 three-gram bags. 
The other issue facing authorities is controlling the importation of damiana, the plant material used in the drug.
The Oceanic Hostel in downtown Auckland, where a 47-year-old man is believed to have died after smoking synthetic cannabis.
CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF
The Oceanic Hostel in downtown Auckland, where a 47-year-old man is believed to have died after smoking synthetic cannabis.
The raw product isn't regulated and over 300 kilograms has been brought into the country to several entities since the beginning of the year.
At least one of those entities is linked to a previous manufacturer and supplier of psychoactive substances. 
WHO IS USING SYNTHETIC CANNABIS?
One resident said, "at night there are people hiding away in doorways smoking the stuff, it's everywhere."
CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF
One resident said, "at night there are people hiding away in doorways smoking the stuff, it's everywhere."
One of the difficulties of addressing the use of synthetic cannabis is that there doesn't appear to be a clear profile of a user.
Different age groups are using the drug, although police have found it is popular among the homeless and members of vulnerable populations. 
Five of the deaths in the past month have been people over the age of 44.
The man's death is believed to be the 10th linked to synthetic cannabis the space of one deadly month.
CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF
The man's death is believed to be the 10th linked to synthetic cannabis the space of one deadly month.
The most recent death linked to the drug was a 47-year-old man who was found dead in his hostel room in central Auckland last week.
He had lived at the Oceanic Hostel on Anzac Ave for less than a month before he died.
Owner Ted Chen said they've kicked out a few of their tennants in recent weeks for using synthetic cannabis. 
"As soon as we know they're using drugs we kick them out, we don't want that sort of thing going on here," he said. 
Since the 47-year-old died Chen said they've had to call an ambulance for a teenager who was having a seizure in the hallway of the hostel.
He suspects she had been smoking the drug. 
One resident who did not want to be named said the use of synthetic cannabis was rife in the city.
"At night there are people hiding away in doorways smoking the stuff, it's everywhere."  
Young users often log onto social media sites to buy synthetic cannabis. Some have been seen using their real names and on publicly visible pages. 
Synthetic cannabis is thought to be a factor in the death of West Auckland teen Devonte Pierce. 
WHY ARE PEOPLE DYING?
Police Association chief Cahill is alarmed by the number of deaths associated with synthetic cannabis in such a short timeframe. 
"I've never heard of anything like this in New Zealand.
"We had overdoses from batches of homebake in the 1980s but nothing to this extent," he said. 
Until toxicology reports have been completed on those who have died in the past month there is no certainty whether synthetic cannabis was involved.
Four of the deaths have been linked to synthetic cannabinoids, AMB-FUBINANA, ADB-FUBINACA and pFPP. 
One factor that authorities believe could be contributing to the deaths is synthetic cannabinoids aren't clinically tested the same way a new medicinal drug would be. The current generation of the drug might be particularly toxic resulting in life-threatening cardiac events. 
Auckland District Health Board confirmed there have been 11 presentations to their emergency room over the past week that were suspected to be associated with synthetic cannabis. 
Meanwhile. ambulance services have reported a spike in call-outs for people believed to have consumed the toxic substance over the past month.
However, a St John spokeswoman said on Thursday that synthetic cannabis responses in Auckland had declined in the past week.

Last Friday they attended six suspected cases, a further six on Saturday and four more on Sunday, she said. 
WHAT IS SYNTHETIC CANNABIS?
Despite its name, synthetic cannabis is not a natural product and is produced in a laboratory.
The ESR defines it as a smokable product that has been altered with one or more chemical compounds.
The compounds react in the brain in a similar way to that which occurs from cannabis.
So far there have been around 200 different synthetic cannabinoids identified across the globe. Some strains have been found to be 75 stronger than THC in cannabis. 
Legal highs were permitted in New Zealand until May 2014, when they were banned unless they could pass a strict testing regime to show they were safe.