Synthetic drugs pose increased risk to Australians, finds World Drug Survey | World Drug Survey

Australians appear to be at increased health risk from synthetic drug use, this year’s World Drug Survey found, with no decline in emergency room admissions despite fewer people buying the substances.

Experts say Australians should be better informed that they are safer taking “traditional” illicit drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy than using synthetic cannabis and other novel new psychoactive substances.

The World Drug Survey is in its fourth year in Australia, with 4,931 Australians answering questions about their drug use. Guardian Australia has partnered with the GDS to publish the results in Australia.

In this year’s GDS, fewer Australians reported using and purchasing new psychoactive substances. But the number of respondents who said they ended up in the emergency room after taking them remained consistent, underscoring the dangers of the drugs.

Of the respondents, 4% said they had used new psychoactive substances in the past 12 months, compared to 4.5% in the 2015 survey. Of those who had used these substances, 3.2% sought medical attention emergency in 2016, compared to 3% of respondents the previous year.

Chart: Use of legal highs by Australian respondents

Although the GDS is not nationally representative, it echoes evidence from other Australian studies that the number of ED presentations related to synthetic cannabinoids and new psychoactive substances is increasing.

New psychoactive substances are being engineered to mimic the effects of traditional drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine, and ice cream, and new man-made chemicals are constantly being developed. Major substance-related complications include cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes, seizures, psychiatric illnesses including psychosis, paranoia and self-harm, and severe and prolonged vomiting.

The substances contained in synthetic products are very different, which makes it difficult to treat those who have severe reactions to them. Hundreds of distinct potential synthetic cannabinoids have now been identified, for example, and more are released frequently. As a result, doctors have no idea what patients are reacting to, what to test for, or how to treat them.

Chart: Global drug use

According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1.3% of Australians aged 14 and over have used synthetic cannabis at some point in their life, while 0.4% of Australians aged 14 and more have used other new psychoactive substances. But many Australians have died after taking the substances, despite the low number of people using them.

John Ryan is the chief executive of the Penington Institute in Melbourne, a drug research institute that identifies and responds to specific substance use problems. He said illicit drugs were safer than new psychoactive substances because doctors knew what was in them and had experience treating them.

“New psychoactive substances are associated with higher risks,” he told Guardian Australia. “Therefore, we should tell the community that old-fashioned drugs are safer. It is to deliver honesty in education.

“While it’s probably hard work, it’s worth trying to switch people from more dangerous drugs to less dangerous drugs.” The government could help with that by not categorizing cannabis the same as ice cream or newer synthetics. That is to say that we must give incentives to move away from more dangerous modes of consumption, in particular by moving away from new psychoactive substances.

Ryan said synthetic cannabis and new psychoactive substances have been illegal in Australia since the Commonwealth changed the law to make anything that mimics the effects of cannabis and other illegal drugs illegal.

But manufacturers and retailers are still trying to circumvent the law. Synthetic cannabis is sold in sex shops, online and by tobacconists in all its forms, from incense and bath salts to potpourri and herbal tea.

But people weren’t using these drugs because they mistakenly thought they were legal, the GDS results suggest. On the contrary, people took them for other reasons, including because they were cheaper than other drugs, or because they wanted to avoid getting caught in workplace drug tests.

“Rising average scores for avoiding drug tests and sniffer dogs raise concerns that people are using more dangerous drugs due to law enforcement in the community and workplace” , the study found.

GDS founder Dr Adam Winstock said there were few examples of new psychoactive substances “turning out to be better, safer or more fun” than illicit drugs. Legalizing “regular” cannabis would likely see people turn away from synthetic cannabis and fewer people would be harmed, he added.

“I don’t know what governments can’t be honest and say, ‘Drug policy is really tough,'” Winstock said. “But the government should also say, ‘We think these new drugs are really dangerous, and while we will continue to arrest people and stop drug imports, there are things you can do to protect yourself. while you use them.

“I’m not saying traditional drugs like MDMA and cocaine are safe. But for most people, their moderate use is less risky than that associated with their newer psychoactive counterparts. I think governments should educate people on how to use traditional medicines in a safer way (and moderation is always a good start) and help them make informed choices when it comes to drug use.

Winstock and his colleagues created the first guidelines for the safe use of illicit drugs.

“Young people are so terrified of scare campaigns about traditional illicit drugs that they may be turning to drugs like synthetic cannabis thinking those drugs are somehow different,” Winstock said. “This is bad government policy.”

Alvin J. Chase