We began testing for Fentanyl this summer after observing the rise in Fentanyl use in other countries and becoming aware that it was being detected at the New Zealand border by Customs. This is the first time it has been identified as a contaminant in New Zealand’s illicit market.
The sample was found in February as a white powder presumed to be heroin. Both heroin and Fentanyl are opioids, however Fentanyl is considerably more toxic and is more likely to lead to overdose. Fentanyl suppresses breathing at a much smaller quantity than other opioids. The risk of death is higher than other opioids, and further increased when unknowingly consumed as a substitute or adulterant in other drugs.
We strongly recommend that users of opioids do not take Fentanyl. Any opioid should be tested for Fentanyl contamination before use.
KnowYourStuffNZ recommends the Government takes three immediate steps to reduce the risk from Fentanyl by committing to:
- Updating the Misuse of Drugs Act to empower DHBs and other drug health services to provide forensic drug checking in New Zealand cities, allowing people to identify if their substance is not what they expected. For example, testing by KnowYourStuffNZ in January identified n-ethylpentylone being sold as MDMA. February’s mass hospitalisation in Christchurch due to n-ethylpentylone could have been prevented had such a service been widely available.
- Facilitating the distribution of emergency overdose kits containing Naloxone, a very effective antidote to opioid overdose, to users of opioid drugs and their loved ones. Naloxone is affordable, easy to use, and legal as part of an approved emergency overdose kit. However an emergency kit has yet to be assembled or approved by the government. As yet Naloxone is only available on prescription through paramedics or emergency departments at hospitals. Most overdoses happen in front of other people and deaths are avoidable if Naloxone is readily available.
- Implementing an effective drug Early Warning System. KnowYourStuffNZ’s discovery of Fentanyl as a substitute in the illicit market demonstrates that the risks from new substances can be foreseen and reduced. In contrast, the mass hospitalisation incident in Christchurch and the 20 deaths associated with AMB-FUBINACA last year, show the damage that occurs without a warning system.
Agencies such as Customs, ESR, Police, and emergency departments collect data on emerging drugs, but the information is not shared with the people most likely to be affected – the public of New Zealand. KnowYourStuffNZ is the only group currently informing the public about substances of concern. We should not have to wait until there is a death from inadvertent Fentanyl ingestion for an Early Warning System to be a priority.
KnowYourStuffNZ recommends a multi-agency, collaborative approach using existing models adopted from effective systems overseas. In the interim KnowYourStuffNZ will continue to provide information about identified substances of concern. As always, everyone should be aware that without testing, all substances are unknown substances. Test before you ingest.