New and emerging psychoactive substances present new challenges for health and treatment services in Bendigo

ON THE RISE: More people are presenting to drug and alcohol services because of substances like synthetic cannabis. Picture: DARREN PATEMAN
ON THE RISE: More people are presenting to drug and alcohol services because of substances like synthetic cannabis. Picture: DARREN PATEMAN

Changing trends in drug use are posing new challenges for healthcare and treatment services in the Bendigo region.

Bendigo Community Health Services alcohol and drug senior worker Bart McGill said there were a number of substances that had become increasingly accessible and commonplace in the area over the past few years, with the most common being synthetic cannabis.

Mr McGill said an amphetamine-like substance known colloquially as “flakka”, synthetic opioids, and GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) were other drugs being increasingly used locally and across the state.

New and emerging psychoactive substances are on the rise globally, with European monitors identifying almost 100 for the first time in 2015 alone.

In response to this proliferation, Bendigo Community Health Services is hosting an information session for professionals and others, featuring Edith Cowan University senior lecturer of addiction and ethno-pharmacologist, Dr Stephen Bright.

The session will look at the drugs themselves and how services can help those using them.

Mr McGill said new substances sometimes required a different approach to more established drugs, presenting a challenge to healthcare and treatment providers when the substance was unfamiliar to not only them, but also the user.

Like traditional illicit drugs, Mr McGill said new and emerging substances also had a wider impact because their users were not living in a vacuum, but as part of our community.

He said people were often accessing these emerging substances through online black markets.

Substances such as synthetic cannabis were also easy to procure until recently, when laws were introduced banning the sale of any psychoactive substance in Victoria.

While drug users had always been a diverse group, Mr McGill said, services had also seen a broadening of the demographic seeking support as these emerging substances became more common.

Mr McGill said synthetic opioids carried such risks as overdose, while services had found synthetic cannabis seemed to exacerbate symptoms for those with pre-existing mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation says that while there is limited information on the short and long-term effects of these new and emerging substances, synthetic cannabis has been reported to have more severe side effects than cannabis.

The free information session will be held on May 31. For more information or to register, visit