Cabinet is seeking urgent advice over the spike in deaths linked to the use of synthetic cannabis.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the "worrying" increase in deaths had been discussed by Cabinet today after provisional figures from the Coroner showed that up to 45 people had died through using synthetic cannabis in the year to June.

That compared to only two deaths in the previous five years.

"Whatever it is, 40 to 45 [deaths] is a serious spike," he said.


"Cabinet reviewed the actions that the agencies are currently taking and the Ministers of Health, Justice, Police and Customs will now be seeking co-ordinated advice from their various agencies on how to best urgently reduce the size and the supply of this drug with the aim of turning this spike around and getting this dangerous drug out of our communities," Peters told reporters at his weekly post-Cabinet press conference.

Peters acknowledged that previous action to deal with the problem had not been successful and a multi-agency response was needed as fast as possible.

"We haven't come up with the kind of solutions which have seen a turnaround and a victory against the people who are peddling this stuff and the number of deaths that are involved."

He was not able to say how a new regime would look but said responsibility for safety of the products may fall to those who sold synthetic cannabis.

"It may be others who are on the market with these products who'll have to themselves provide a certificate of safety to the community."

Peters dismissed National MP Simeon Brown's member's bill, saying police advice was that increasing penalties for dealers would not work.

Brown's proposed Psychoactive Substances (Increasing Penalty for Supply and Distribution) Amendment Bill would increase the maximum jail sentence for selling or supplying synthetic drugs from two years to eight.

The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) says it's developing a platform for a national drug monitoring and surveillance system to tackle the wave of evolving synthetic drugs coming into the country.


Alongside other agencies and affected organisations, it aimed to create a drug early warning system.

ESR spokeswoman Mary Jane McCarthy said the detection of synthetic cannabinoids was complex because of the continual emergence of new varieties.