The importation of synthetic drugs into New Zealand has never been easier and smugglers can stand to make a 2000 per cent profit, according to a former synthetics importer.
An anonymous source has spoken with the Drug and Alcohol Practitioners Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (Dapaanz) and warned that a recent spate of deaths linked to synthetic drugs is just the tip of the iceberg.
Executive director Sue Paton said the organisation had received credible intelligence which indicated that potent synthetic drugs, like AMB-Fubinaca, were being sourced in bulk online to sell for enormous profits.
"Internet technologies are driving the rapid globalisation of a psychoactive substance black market with profits of up to 2000 per cent," she said.
The source told Dapaanz that the wholesale price of one gram of AMB-Fubinaca could be as low as $1 USD. This compound could then be used to make four ounces of synthetic product with a street value of up to $2000.
The source told Nathan Frost, a writer and researcher working on behalf of Dapaanz, that importers were bringing the product in using a reflective material and fake vaping products.
"It's sent in Mylar - a material used to bounce back light to reflect x-rays. If it's packaged right and in a box with something else in the side of the box you won't see it because the Mylar will deflect the x-ray," he said.
"Now that people vape everyone is importing vape juice and people get the research chemical powders broken down into liquid form, either in solvents or water, and then baked back off once it arrives at its destination.
"Basically any substance that can be concealed as a powder or liquefied, can be easily smuggled into NZ," he said.
According to the source, elements of the industry had reverted to online operations outside of New Zealand because the psychoactive industry was unable to prove synthetic compounds were safe without animal testing, and thus legal for sale.
"Research chemical companies based in either China or the EU are providing product worldwide for the synthetic black market utilising either the internet or crypto-market transactions through the dark web," he said.
"These companies employ effective concealment methods of either powders or liquids and guarantee importers refund of money in the event of border seizures."
Paton said it was not just the compounds linked to synthetic cannabis that the public should be worried about.
According to the source, synthetics that mimicked the effects of opiate, psychedelic and stimulant drugs had been developed and many of these substances had never been subjected to any form of testing.
"Each synthetic cannabinoid has a different hit to it; from mild relaxation to extreme hallucinations to a couch sloth feeling.
"It's like mixing heroin with crack cocaine and methamphetamine all in one and smoking that. You're going to go up, you're going to go down, you're going to go sideways. You're going to get completely twisted.
"Those receptors you're hitting are going to get overloaded and send your brain into a catatonic state and you're going be useless sitting there with your mouth open."
The source said the drugs had an extremely fine overdose threshold and that shoddy application methods were behind the recent spate of deaths.
"I think the deaths have been caused by backyard chemists mixing ABM-Fubinaca or MMB-Chminaca at a high dose before putting it in a spray bottle and randomly spraying it on the plant material unevenly," he said.
"Because of the strength of the compounds uneven distribution can mean the difference between a dose that gets you high and a dose that kills you."
He said the more synthetic compounds dissolved into a solution, the more potent it would be.
Paton said these drugs were being "aggressively marketed" because of their strength, cheapness and enormous profits for dealers.
She believed any strategies to reduce drug-related harm, such as the methamphetamine plan that was currently being revised, needed to incorporate other harmful products that were being imported with ease.
"The ease with which synthetic drugs can be imported into the country means a prohibitionist approach to control is unlikely to have any lasting impact," Paton said.
"When one substance is given prominence and considered in isolation, it just makes room for other substances - some even more harmful, to fly under the radar."
Paton said a "robust and comprehensive approach" that had recovery for individuals and families affected by substances at its core was necessary.
"So far, those most affected by the spate of deaths have been young people, those living rough, those suffering from mental illness and other marginalised groups.
"We need to act before we see more deaths and suffering."