Synthetic drugs: rising death toll alarms Australian authorities
Australian academics and law enforcement officers have expressed their growing alarm about a tide of synthetic drugs that have claimed five lives, including three school students, in 14 months.
Amid a proliferation of drugs designed by overseas laboratories to mimic LSD, cannabis and methamphetamines, one academic has forecast worse is to come.
Law officials also said it was difficult to regulate the drugs when laboratories regularly changed the chemical composition to avoid bans.
''The reality is we can't keep up. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has found that, since 2011, we are seeing a new drug in this category every week,'' Paul Jevtovic, the acting chief executive of the Australian Crime Commission, said.
Governments have been attempting to outlaw the trade by banning any substance that is designed to mimic the effects of illicit drugs.
Their actions follow the death of five people in Australia in the past 14 months blamed on synthetic drugs: Newcastle truck driver Glenn Punch; schoolboys Henry Kwan, Nick Mitchell and Preston Bridge; and a 47-year-old Lake Macquarie man on Christmas Day.
Detective Nick Bingham, NSW Drug Squad head, said their strategies were working, citing figures from Newcastle where call-outs to psychotic episodes fell from nearly 30 a month to just two after Consumer Affairs banned the selling of a particularly potent drug.
''All the government stakeholders got together and nutted out how to stop the products," he said.
"Consumer Affairs came to the party and they put consumer bans on the products to stop retail outlets from selling it. That was a big thing for us.''
But authorities said new drugs are constantly being developed to get around the legislation.
The drugs are usually made in legal laboratories in China, with Guangdong identified as a hub.
The risks posed by the constant development of new drugs have been highlighted by Canberra-based emergency medicine doctor and synthetic drug researcher David Caldicott.
''It has been a wild, unrestrained evolution that kind of came out of left field,'' Dr Caldicott said.
''I get concerned because the rate of change is so fast that something big and ugly is just around the corner.''
Dr Caldicott is not convinced laws that target substances on the grounds they have similar effects to existing drugs will work.
''A knee jerk approach of banning products will not work in years to come,'' he said. ''We need to be more clever and nimble.''
Detective Bingham said NSW had introduced 45 new substances into the prohibited drugs schedule of its Drugs Misuse and Trafficking Act and clauses covering drugs that might be structurally similar to an illicit substance.
"It and other states are also able to police the drugs more effectively after the Therapeutic Goods Administration moved to have a number of substances included in the national poisons' schedule,'' he said.
Judicial authorities admit the laws have yet to be tested.
- Sydney Morning Herald