ESR’s expertise in tracking new illegal drugs coming into the country will feed into an international body through the appointment of ESR toxicologist Diana Kappatos to a newly formed committee of the International Association of Forensic Toxicologists (TIAFT).

Membership of TIAFT’s New Psychoactive Substances Committee will also boost ESR’s drug testing and drug surveillance work. 

ESR’s drug testing activities include border and police drug seizures, deaths reported to the Coroner, criminal toxicology, motor vehicle accidents, impaired drivers, drugs-affected patients in emergency departments, prisons and patients under psychiatric care. ESR also monitors drugs in waste water.

Since June 2017, ESR has been instrumental in providing rapid identification of the synthetic cannabinoids implicated in more than 50 deaths, as well as many emergency department admissions.

ESR has also identified a number of synthetic opioid and fentanyl analogues entering New Zealand, some of which were associated with deaths.

Mrs Kappatos says ESR is pleased to be part of such a prestigious international committee to share the information provided by ESR’s Drugs Early Warning System of the harm being caused by new illicit drugs coming into New Zealand, and also to tap into which drugs are appearing in other countries.  

“The centralised collection of ‘real-time’ information from around the world will allow for the timely development of harm prevention strategies not only internationally but also at a country and even at the community level,” she says.

ESR is the sole provider of all Forensic Services to the New Zealand (NZ) Police and Ministries of Justice and Health, and also works with NZ Customs on illicit drug screening at the country’s borders.


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Gael Woods