Synthetic drug users are holding up worthy emergency cases in hospital emergency departments across the country, a senior doctor says.
A "considerable increase" in patients still high or coming down from products such as K2 presenting themselves at emergency departments (EDs) was putting medical staff under added stress as they tried to prioritise, Waikato Hospital emergency department clinical director Dr John Bonning said.
Many were simply worried or paranoid, rather than physically unwell, he said.
"In the last couple of weeks, email contact through our ED networks has shown a noticeable increase in K2 presentations in Christchurch, Wellington, New Plymouth, Tokoroa and Tauranga EDs, just to name a few. It's difficult to put an exact number on it because of how we code ED presentations, but the observation is unanimous nationwide," Dr Bonning said.
"A key frustration is that the effects of K2 are predictable and self-inflicted. A patient having a heart attack is not."
Dr Bonning said many users of legal highs were arriving at hospital with varying degrees of mental and physical problems, some still under the influence of K2, usually combined with alcohol, or with withdrawal symptoms.
Medical staff reported users suffering seizures, while others were highly agitated and sometimes violent.
Persistent vomiting, visual and auditory hallucinations and severe paranoia were common among those turning up to emergency departments.
Others were simply described as "worried but well".
Dr Bonning said mental health services were similarly inundated.
"Dealing with K2 users, many who don't need admission, diverts our resources away from those seriously ill or higher priority patients," he said.
"In just one case this week we sent three people home after coming in drunk and high on K2 because they felt slightly sick and paranoid. This is becoming more common."
He echoed the view of many across the country, saying it should be made illegal, and warned people not to experiment with it.
"As with any mind-altering substance you put your health at risk, and if you end up in ED that is a significant drain on our resources in the face of many other worthy emergency cases out there," he said.
It comes among increased fears among the community about the effects of synthetic cannabis on users. Moves have already been made by the Government to target ingredients used to create legal highs like K2, with former Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne banning substances found in the product last month.