St John Ambulance Service staff have attended close to 1200 synthetic drug-related callouts so far this year, with the majority in Auckland.

Weekly statistics released from the ambulance service show that its Auckland service responded to 631 callouts so far this year. Its worst was the week to April 30, with 64 callouts in one week.

Canterbury was next, with 244 callouts in the year to date; the central east and central west regions of the North Island had 88 and 85 respectively and central south 82.

Southland/Otago had 25, Northland 12, while Tasman had just six.


The figures also showed the status of the patients as reported by St John during the callouts, with 24 of them deceased and another 133 either serious or critical.

The figures come in the wake of reports of two deaths and another 19 made ill in Christchurch in the past fortnight through the suspected use of synthetics.

St John Auckland central territory manager Simon Barnett said although the majority of callouts were in central Auckland, it was a nationwide problem.

"Synthetics are a poison. People literally don't know what toxins they're putting into their bodies, which is why we see such a varied presentation, from nausea and collapse to death."

Barrett said although St John staff attended many methamphetamine and GHB-related cases in central Auckland, the number was "nothing compared to what synthetics are currently, and certainly not at the same level of deaths.

"In central Auckland the vulnerable community, and the homelesss in particular, have been hit hard by synthetics," he said.

Barnett said the appeal of synthetics for vulnerable people was the easy access and the cheap price.

People under the influence were often unpredictable and often on more drugs than just synthetics.

"One of our greatest concerns is our staff safety, not only is it managing that patient, it's managing the challenging environment that's going on at the time."

Barnett welcomed Health Minister David Clark's plan to have two compounds in synthetics reclassified as Class A drugs to give police more search and seizure powers.

"Any measure that helps get synthetics off the street helps St John staff. When we're attending a case relating to synthetics, it comes at an opportunity cost of that resource being elsewhere," he said.

Clark said yesterday he would be seeking Cabinet support for the reclassification of two compounds commonly found in synthetics - AMB Fubinaca and 5FABD.

But the Green Party warned the Government not to pursue a costly war on synthetic drugs that was destined to fail.

"David Clark's call to reclassify two of the synthetic compounds as Class A drugs puts our country on the wrong path," said Chloe Swarbrick, the Greens' spokeswoman on drug law reform.

"We can choose to carry on with a failed war on drugs, or take a more sensible route and look at the causes and health impacts of addiction and treat those instead."