For healthcare professionals
Unidentified Substance in Emergency Departments (USED) Programme
The USED programme is a pilot initiative created by ESR (Institute of Environment Science and Research). The intent is to carry out toxicological testing to identify any substances, such as synthetic cannabinoids, present in individuals who present to an emergency department (ED) showing specific symptoms of intoxication.
Information for emergency departments participating in the USED programme
To participate in the USED programme email Diana Kappatos
Guidance and Forms
The Selection criteria (pdf, 66 KB) describes the inclusion/exclusion criteria for individuals who present to an ED showing specific signs of intoxication.
The Programme procedure (pdf, 69 KB) is a flow diagram describing the six step process for sampling, and sending of samples and forms.
The Emergency department procedure (pdf, 280 KB) describes how to take the specimens and what to do with the forms.
Email email@example.com if you have any issues with using the guidance or forms.
The New Zealand National Poisons Centre has clinical toxicologists on their staff who can provide treatment advice about unidentified substances taken by individuals.
The National Poisons Centre runs a 24-hour 7-day toll free emergency telephone service.
Phone: 0800 POISON (0800 764 766).
Information about the correct code to use where a patient is hospitalised can be found on the Ministry of Health website: Synthetic drugs
How to contact us
Please contact the Ministry immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have identified in your ED a spike in presentations or any deaths suspected to be related to synthetic cannabinoids or any other psychoactive substance.
What is known about the recent deaths and hospitalisations
From 1 June 2017 to the beginning of February 2018, about 30 deaths linked to synthetic cannabinoid use are being investigated by the Chief Coroner.
A joint statement was issued by the Chief Coroner, Judge Deborah Marshall and Police on 21 July 2017 after at least seven deaths in July in Auckland:
- Joint statement from the Chief Coroner's office and Police on the significant number of synthetic cannabis related deaths in Auckland.
A further statement was issued by the Chief Coroner and Police on 14 September 2017:
As in New Zealand, internationally there have been a number of cases where synthetic cannabinoid use has been associated with or suspected as the cause of death. In general, synthetic cannabinoids have undergone limited human or animal toxicity studies, and the amount of substance used by the manufacturer is not always controlled.