The rising use of synthetic cannabis is partly to blame for a significant rise in the number of assaults on mental healthcare workers, an Otago and Southland health official says.
Assaults on Southern District Health Board (SDHB) mental healthcare staff in the first seven months of the year are up about 37 per cent compared to the same period last year, nursing director Heather Casy says.
"It's a huge problem... It is having a significant impact on wards," she told the Otago Daily Times.
Synthetic cannabis use was more prevalent than alcohol or illicit drug use among some mental health service patients and a new temporary law banning the substance is not working, Ms Casy says.
She could not say how much of the increase in assaults was due to synthetic cannabis use but says there has been a definite rise in incidents associated with the drug in at least the past year.
Some inpatients on day leave got synthetic cannabis before returning to the wards.
Ms Casy says the effects of synthetic cannabis are worse than that of cannabis.
There were 131 assaults on mental healthcare workers in the past seven months and the number of overall assaults on all SDHB staff was up about 36 per cent.
The rise in the number of assaults was also due to increased awareness and reporting.
The first temporary bans on synthetic cannabis substances, issued a year ago to take the products off shelves, was rolled over in August for a further 12 months ahead of a permanent law change.
New legislation will be introduced later this year requiring manufacturers to provide toxicology data and results of human clinical trials to a new regulatory body, which will declare whether they are safe before they can be sold.