Greens push but Government tardy addressing synthetic drug toll

Deaths from synthetics is the tip of a growing drug toll iceberg. Greens, Chlöe Swarbrick in particular, keep pushing for action but the Government seems slow to do anything about it.

Last week (ODT) About 50 deaths linked to synthetics being investigated

A coroner has ruled that using synthetic drugs led to the deaths of two men – and is investigating whether the deadly substance played a part in up to 50 other fatal incidents.

Findings were released today into the deaths of Taupo man Isaiah Terry McLaughlin and Shannon James Thomas Coleman-Fallen from Rotorua.

Both deaths were directly linked to synthetic drugs.

There are currently about 50 deaths nationally which the coroner’s officer says “provisionally appear to be attributable to synthetic cannabis toxicity”.

Today (Newsroom): Further deaths from synthetics

The number of deaths believed to be caused by synthetics has risen to as many as 50, with the coroner releasing detailed findings into two more deaths caused by the drugs – and repeating a call for a change in approach to users and easier access to addiction treatment.

Health Minister David Clark is currently working on a strategy to combat the problem, but the National Party is accusing the Government of dragging its feet while New Zealanders die.

Meanwhile, the Green Party is continuing to advocate for regulation rather than prohibition, as the drug argument rages on.

Swarbrick in Parliament:


Health Minister David Clark said any death as a result of drug use was a tragedy.

“The Government is taking the synthetic drugs issue very seriously – these drugs are killing people.”

They were killing people when Clark became Minister of Health a year ago.

Health, Police, Customs and Corrections were working together on the issue, while Government – led by Clark – looked at the question of reclassification, Clark said.

A decision from Cabinet is expected in the coming weeks, he said.

‘In the coming weeks’ will be heading into the Christmas shutdown of Parliament.

“It’s important to acknowledge that there is no silver bullet. We need to treat drugs, including synthetics, as a health issue.

“Our focus is harm reduction and reducing the supply of synthetics, rather than simply criminalising people using these drugs.”

But how? Last month: Greens say Health Minister’s plan to reclassify common synthetic drugs a ‘costly war, destined to fail’

The Government are working towards labelling common types of synthetic cannabis as a Class A drug “as soon as possible”, however the Green Party are warning against a “costly war on synthetic drugs that is destined to fail”.

“People who make synthetics are constantly changing the compounds and chemicals, it’s impossible to know what’s in these drugs,” Green Party drug law reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick said.

“If our plan is to classify every synthetic product then we’ll be playing catch up every time manufacturers change the chemicals.”

“We can choose to carry on with a failed war on drugs, or take a more sensible route and look at the causes and health impacts of addiction and treat those instead.”

It comes after Health Minister David Clark said making common types of synthetic drugs Class A “enables police to have greater search and seizure powers”.

“We’re aiming to do this as soon as possible.”

Past Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne recognised the futility of trying to classify and control synthetic drugs years ago, and came up with a solution that was agreed to by Parliament, but National chickened out in reaction to media sensationalising of short term problems.


Earlier this week, the Drug Foundation released an economic impact report, which found reforming the country’s “punitive” drug laws – including the decriminalisation of all drugs and introduction of a legal market for cannabis – would benefit the country by at least $450 million a year.

The report, produced by economist Shamubeel Eaqub says there would be a net social benefit of at least $225m from investing an extra $150m in addiction treatment, drug education, and harm reduction interventions.

It estimates there would be a net social benefit of $34m to $83m from replacing the Misuse of Drugs Act, passed in 1975, with a new law based on a health-based approach to the issue.

Creating a legal, regulated market for the purchase of cannabis would bring $185m to $240m in new tax revenue while also saving the justice sector $6m to $13m.

The Health Ministry is a huge task for any minister, and Clark has struggled to deal with everything. In a change from the last Government the responsibility for the problems with drugs use and abuse was given to the Minister. Under the National government an Associate Minister dealt with drug issues.

Clark doesn’t seem to be giving the problems with synthetic drugs the urgency required (that was obvious a year ago). And he seems quite cautious if not conservative when it comes to drug laws.  A radical rethink is urgently required.

Jacinda Ardern should seriously consider a reshuffle of ministerial responsibilities.

If she really wants to be a progressive Prime Minister she should consider appointing Swarbrick as an Associate health Minister (outside Cabinet) so she can focus on the urgent overhaul needed of drug laws and treating it properly as a health issue that requires urgent attention.




  1. robertguyton

     /  12th November 2018

    Chloe and The Greens are exceptional on this issue and many, many others. It takes time for non-Greenies to understand this, but with gentle guidance from Green supporters, understanding comes to those who hold unreasonable prejudice and bias 🙂

    • Understanding comes from observing words and actions, not from uncritical supporters. Some MPs step up, I think like Swarbrick, and some disappoint, like Davidson and Ghohraman (they may learn but are showing little sign of that so far).

      • robertguyton

         /  12th November 2018

        You might be disappointed, Pete, but that doesn’t mean they are not performing well. In any case, most people carry a prejudice about The Greens that has been nurtured by the other political parties and the media since forever; it’s what happens to “radical” groups. Even the word “radical” has been radicalised to carry a negative connotation.

  2. robertguyton

     /  12th November 2018

    Pete’s correct; ” a radical rethink is urgently required ” on this and many other issues we all face. The Greens are radical enough to lead the way on issues that other parties have failed to address or even comprehend.

  3. Noel

     /  12th November 2018

    Is that the same Green who was arguing against the Bill to raise the penalties for synthetic drug dealers?

    • robertguyton

       /  12th November 2018

      She knows how stupid it is to use criminal penalties as the primary tool in dealing with health issues. She’s a Green who learns from history and lacks the instinct to lash out at problems, rather choosing to employ the most effective methods to solve them, so yes, she is the same Green.

      • Noel

         /  12th November 2018

        Dealing drugs ain’t no health issue. So the Greens are happy with the miniscule penalties for dealing synthetic?

        • robertguyton

           /  12th November 2018

          “So the Greens are happy with the miniscule penalties for dealing synthetic”
          Nobody but you said that, Noel. Try focussing on what The Greens actually say, rather than settling for an uninformed guess, such as your navel provides.

          • The issue is that increasing penalties may lead to some political troglydytes thinking they have solved it, while the harm profile of a chemical may justify class A status, changing it, wont change the situation on the ground…

    • The Greens are saying that the WAR on Drugs is a failed policy & Simeon Brown’s bill is just continuing down this track.. even though it was Natl (in Govt.) that regulated/legalised these poisons.. under the name ‘synthetic cannabis’ OR ‘legal highs; then U-turned 180 degs 😦

      • Noel

         /  12th November 2018

        Going by Roberts comments above I don’t think they know what is needed!

        • robertguyton

           /  12th November 2018

          Why go by my comments? Read The Greens statement directly , then you’ll know what they say.

        • robertguyton

           /  12th November 2018

          Speaking a little more kindly to the issue, Noel, I’d say The Greens are saying look at the whole picture around the issue, choose the best overall approach that brings as much of the community as possible into a safe place and don’t get side-tracked by singular issues, such as “how much punishment should we mete out” and keep the over all gains in mind. Pinging them for a detail as you are doing is ignoring the process they use for the greater gain.

  4. The Greens are saying ‘Stop ignoring the Elephant in the room’: the majority of those who use (&died) from synthetics, would likely be alive, IF they decrim./regulate NATURAL herb !

    No. of deaths in last year from Synthetics: 45+
    No. of deaths from cannabis USE… ever: Zero !

    “Go Chloe (Greens).. you good thing !!”

  5. Noel

     /  12th November 2018

    Don’t cherry pick Zedd we can all do that!
    I’m for decrimalisation but hey Portugal remains involved in the War on Drugs.

    • ‘Don’t cherry pick Zedd we can all do that!’ sez Noel

      This has nothing to do with ‘picking cherries’.. its about cutting through ALL the nonsense, that the current law still perpetrates.

      Regulating Cannabis/other drugs will not end the black-market completely, but will cut the massive cost & waste of potential that the WAR on drugs has created for decades.. & still counting; labeling people as crims. for using the herb.. meanwhile saying it is OK/less harmful to get drunk & smoke tobacco instead… NOT

      • Noel

         /  12th November 2018

        Read what I said Zedd. I said I was for decriminalization of users similar to the Portugal model. But that can not happen until addiction treatment systems are in place.
        That’s dealing with a health issue.

        • so we should, keep the Drug WAR going in the interim; arrest, prosecute & punish everyone, even pot-smokers, until we set up this infrastructure.. of which you speak ?

          that actually, just sounds like more excuses, excuses, excuses… to do F-all

  6. NOEL

     /  12th November 2018

    I’m all for continuing to keep arresting and prosecuting those involved in the supply and cultivation of drugs.”pot smoking” arrests are half what they used to be, tell you something?
    Here’s a question for yah Zedd if they eventually ban smoking ciggies in public are you going demand pot smoking be treated differently?

  7. Frankly; Im just getting bored with hearing the same prohibitionist/status quo only rhetoric.. eg ‘Yes we all know cannabis, is likely less harmful than tobacco & Alcohol.. but we just dont want to remove our blinkers & actually admit that they got it WRONG !’

    OR they are either working in the prohibitionist/big pharma, alcohol, tobacco industries & they are all just fine with ‘business as usual’.. perhaps inc. synthetics ?

    Its 2018 folks.. not 1975

    enuf sed…

    • NOEL

       /  12th November 2018

      Cheer up Zedd the referendum can’t be far away. Let me think should it ask to decriminalise or legalise?

  8. nasska

     /  12th November 2018

    On 18 Jun 1971 Nixon decided to get tough on drugs.

    47 years later & the government is still losing the war against a plant.

  9. NOEL

     /  12th November 2018

    Robert it took decades before someone asked the question is second hand cigarettes smoke a risk to children and asthmatics.
    Now there is a hint that weed may do the same but hey lets wait a few decades for the science to come in.
    My original question was to Zedd. He has now answered.

    • robertguyton

       /  12th November 2018

      Good-O, NOEL – do you think people will be chain-smoking weed the way they did tobacco? You know, children exposed to relentless second-hand smoke like that? I don’t think so and that’s why I question your conflating tobacco and cannabis.