Police are warning a dangerous and potentially deadly "bad batch" of synthetic cannabis could be circulating Rotorua's black market.
It comes as details about a young man's death in the region from smoking synthetic drugs have been made public, prompting reminders about the killer weed from a coroner.
Rotorua police area controller Inspector Phil Taikato said "we don't want another death on our hands" and was warning users.
He said police were working on information they had received to find the dealer.
"Last week we believe there has been a rise in the negative side effects subsequent to a bad batch that is circulating around the district.
"We don't know where it's come from but we are working with the district health board to see if there's been presentations but from our observations and information we have received this is an early warning to the public that there might be a dangerous batch out there."
Although authorities have warned about the dangers of all synthetic drugs, there had been recent spikes in deaths and hospital admissions due to potency since synthetic cannabis came on to the black market in 2017.
A coroner's finding into the death of Tokoroa man Michael Lawry, 27, has been released to the Rotorua Daily Post. It shows he died from inhaling synthetic cannabinoid and complications from morbid obesity.
Lawry died in January 2018. His parents came home from work at 5.30pm and found the door to the toilet door locked.
His father pushed the door open and found their son lying next to the toilet. They started CPR and phoned for an ambulance but the young man died.
Coroner Wallace Bain's finding, which is dated May 2019 but was released under the Official Information Act to the Rotorua Daily Post this month, said his family were concerned he died from synthetic cannabis because he was a regular user.
A plastic drink bottle converted to a bong used to smoke the drug was in the hallway and a toxicology report revealed the presence 5F-ADB acid, which is a metabolite of the "extremely toxic compound" synthetic cannabinoid 5F-ADB.
In the finding, Bain highlighted previous findings into deaths related to synthetic drugs.
One of those findings showed users could die from a cardiac event induced by synthetic cannabis if they did not get medical help quickly.
They can also die from being in a comatose state and choking on their own vomit or can suffer a fatal brain injury, the previous coronial cases noted.
Bain reiterated expert evidence from Dr Paul Quigley from previous coroner's findings that efforts should be made to inform users and their families and associates of the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids and the need to get help immediately if someone collapses.
He also endorsed Quigley's advice for families or associates of users to immediately shake or attempt to rouse anyone who collapses after smoking the drug.
Bain reiterated Quigley's advice that the person should be put in the recovery position and a call for help made without delay.
Meanwhile, Taikato said from the police's experience those likely to smoke or be in possession of synthetic drugs were young or "high-needs" people.
In comparison to other illicit drugs, it was considered cheap.
"This drug can be very deadly given that it is made by anyone using any type of chemical substance that can alter the normal function of the brain. Because of the unregulated state of this market, some of the chemicals used can be more unpredictable, dangerous and life-threatening than marijuana."
He said the problem had been consistent in Rotorua since its appearance in 2017, but dropped off during levels 3 and 4 of the Covid-19 outbreak.
But that changed last week with news of the potentially bad batch.
"Police continue to maintain a focus on this illegal market and target when and where necessary the offenders. For operational reasons I won't go any further into this detail."
Taikato asked the community to continue to report suspicious dealings and comings and goings to the reporting line 105 or (0800) 555 111 or 0800 CRIMESTOPPERS.
The Chief Coroner reported in September last year there were 24 cases in New Zealand where the cause of death had been confirmed as synthetic cannabis toxicity. There were a further about 50 cases which provisionally appeared to be attributable to synthetic cannabis toxicity, which equated to a total of 70 to 75 deaths since June 1 2017.
There are also a number of deaths where while synthetic cannabis contributed to the death, synthetic cannabis toxicity was not the ultimate cause of death, the Chief Coroner said.