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Five Years Ago Synthetics Were a Legal High. Soon They Might Be a Class-A Drug

The potential law change comes after another spate of overdoses, this time in Christchurch.

by Zoe Madden-Smith
03 October 2018, 11:23pm

Minister of Health David Clark wants to reclassify synthetics as a Class-A drug after a “bad batch” led to the deaths of two people in Christchurch. The decision would place synthetic drugs in the same category as heroin and methamphetamine.

In just two weeks 19 people have been admitted to Christchurch Hospital after suffering "probable severe synthetic toxicity". Two remain in intensive care, the Canterbury DHB said. The two fatalities were not admitted to hospital.

As many as 45 New Zealanders have died after smoking synthetics in the past 12 months. "I am looking to seek the support of my cabinet colleagues to have these reclassified as a Class A drug," Clark told Newshub. "There is no safe level of these drugs and people should avoid them."

His comments seem to contradict recent Labour rhetoric on the drugs. Just a week ago Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refused to sign the Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem—a US document seen as a call for a renewed commitment to the war on drugs—and said her government would instead approach drug use as a health issue, not a criminal one.

National MP for Pakuranga Simeon Brown currently has a private member’s bill before the House that would increase the penalties for those who manufacture and supply all synthetic drugs.

The problem, he said, with re-classifying synthetics as Class A was that producers could side-step the legislation by altering the chemical make-up of the drugs. “By only increasing the penalty for some synthetic drugs, dealers will avoid these penalties by simply changing the ingredients,” he said.

Chlöe Swarbrick, the Green Party’s drug law reform spokesperson, wrote on Twitter that the proposed change was mere "law-and-order rhetoric". “Nowhere in the world has been able to get rid of drugs, or reduce drug harm, by ratcheting up penalties.”

“The @NZGreens believe we need to genuinely treat drugs as a health issue," she wrote. "That looks like ending the War on Drugs. That looks like rejecting greater penalisation, which we all know, because the evidence shows, just won’t work.”