Psychoactive substances - information for health professionals

Unidentified Substance in Emergency Departments (USED) Programme

The USED programme is a pilot initiative created by ESR (Institute of Environment Science and Research). The intent is to carry out toxicological testing to identify any substances, such as synthetic cannabinoids, present in individuals who present to an emergency department (ED) showing specific symptoms of intoxication.

Information for emergency departments participating in the USED programme

To participate in the USED programme email Diana Kappatos

Guidance and Forms

The Selection criteria (pdf, 66 KB) describes the inclusion/exclusion criteria for individuals who present to an ED showing specific signs of intoxication.

The Programme procedure (pdf, 69 KB) is a flow diagram describing the six step process for sampling, and sending of samples and forms.   

The Emergency department procedure (pdf, 280 KB) describes how to take the specimens and what to do with the forms.

There are two forms to complete, the Test request form (pdf, 951 KB) and Toxicology data form (pdf, 529 KB). The forms include instructions for where they are to be sent. 

Email if you have any issues with using the guidance or forms.

Clinical advice

The New Zealand National Poisons Centre has clinical toxicologists on their staff who can provide treatment advice about unidentified substances taken by individuals.  

The National Poisons Centre runs a 24-hour 7-day toll free emergency telephone service.

Phone: 0800 POISON (0800 764 766).

Clinical coding

Information about the correct code to use where a patient is hospitalised can be found on the Ministry of Health website: Synthetic drugs

How to contact us

Please contact the Ministry immediately at if you have identified in your ED a spike in presentations or any deaths suspected to be related to synthetic cannabinoids or any other psychoactive substance.


What is known about the recent deaths and hospitalisations

From 1 June 2017 to the beginning of February 2018, about 30 deaths linked to synthetic cannabinoid use are being investigated by the Chief Coroner.

A joint statement was issued by the Chief Coroner, Judge Deborah Marshall and Police on 21 July 2017 after at least seven deaths in July in Auckland:

A further statement was issued by the Chief Coroner and Police on 14 September 2017:

As in New Zealand, internationally there have been a number of cases where synthetic cannabinoid use has been associated with or suspected as the cause of death. In general, synthetic cannabinoids have undergone limited human or animal toxicity studies, and the amount of substance used by the manufacturer is not always controlled.

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