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'Concerning new trends' around synthetic drugs in New Zealand - report

The Drug Foundation say there are "concerning new trends" in New Zealand's drug use, highlighting the "unprecedented" deaths recently linked to synthetic cannabinoid substances.

The foundation's 'State of the Nation 2018' report also found illicit drug convictions were rising, as were low-level methamphetamine convictions. However, smoking rates were slowly falling. 

Kali Mercier of the Drug Foundation said synthetics were becoming more toxic and harmful, with more than 10 dangerous synthetics detected since 2017. 

"The chemicals found here are often sold in much more potent doses than overseas. This is a factor in our high mortality rates," the report reads. 

"As many as 50 deaths have been connected with synthetic cannabinoids since mid-2017. Hundreds more people continue to be hospitalised with severe side effects such as seizures and overdose."

Ms Mercier said the deaths were "an indictment" and that the recent changes to how police can deal with drug possession and the increase in frontline funding was a "great first step, but we can't afford to be complacent".

The report stated that of the 62,173 drug offence convictions in the decade to 2017, 61 per cent were for low-level charges. 

"Nearly half are young people under 30, 80 per cent are male, and 41 per cent are Māori," Ms Mercier said. 

"A drug conviction affects relationships, employment and travel opportunities. That's a life sentence for some, and it's clear that the burden falls to some groups more than others."

Illicit drug convictions had increased by 14 per cent over the past two years, with 5710 convicted in 2017 - 3,833 of those for low-level offences. 

Low-level cannabis convictions "have tapered off", but low-level methamphetamine convictions have risen. 

Adult smokers had dropped slightly, down to 16 per cent from 18 per cent five-years-ago.  

Despite the demand for addiction treatment increasing with 5000 more people accessing treatment in 2017 than in 2012, funding for addiction treatment positions had "barely grown", the report said. 

"This has compounded the underlying issue, which is that the sector as a whole is massively underfunded," Ms Mercier said. 

The State of the Nation report uses information from publicly available databases and from information released by the Government under the Official Information Act. 

Source: Te Karere