What’s out there? The drug landscape coming into summer

2022 has seen more drug checking clinics than any other year. This is due in part to the increase of organisations getting their drug checking licence. We now have three organisations doing drug checking up and down the country:

There’s us (obvs), the NZ Drug Foundation, and the NZ Needle Exchange Programme (NEST).

We’ve all pooled our data to take a look at what substances we’ve found from August to November to get an idea of what we might expect to see this summer.

22% of drugs we checked were partially or completely different to what people thought they had

This includes where:

  • the drug was substituted for another drug entirely, or
  • where the drug was a mix of what people thought it was and one or more other psychoactive substances. 

Of these, 12% were another substance entirely, and 10% were a mix of the presumed substance and other substances.

Remember your 6 Ps: Proper planning prevents piss-poor partying. Come and get your gear checked before you hit the dancefloor.
Find a clinic near you in our events calendar

Concerning trends we’ve found

Heads up, friends.

More cathinones in people’s MDMA

We are still seeing synthetic cathinones popping up across the country. We’re still seeing eutylone mixed into or sold as MDMA. We’ve also seen 4CMC and 3CMC, methylone, dimethylpentylone and 4-MEC amongst others. These cathinones are often dosed differently to MDMA and can have unpleasant and unpredictable effects if taken at MDMA doses.

Bromazolam and other novel benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are depressant drugs that are sometimes prescribed for things like anxiety and insomnia. Novel benzos are unlicensed benzodiazepines that don’t have medical uses, and may be sold on the illicit market.

We’ve seen pills sold as pharmaceutical benzos, like alprazolam, that end up testing as completely different benzodiazepines, such as bromazolam. While these novel benzos share many of the same effects as prescription ones, pills can contain much higher doses, or be unevenly distributed.

Isopropylbenzylamine

We’ve started to see this ‘cutting agent’ replacing methamphetamine recently. Though it does not have stimulant effects, people have told us it can cause some unpleasant effects such as headaches and burning sensations when injected.

New research suggests isopropylbenzylamine may have toxic effects, such as causing nausea and vomiting and potentially serious skin and eye irritation.

Can we expect more of the same over summer?

Based on High Alert’s assessment of the current drug landscape, it’s likely we’ll see:

  • More MDMA with added psychoactives
  • More MDMA being substituted for something else.

High Alert have found MDMA to be less available and cathinones seem to be more available than they were last year.

High Alert liaises with Customs, Police, and drug checking organisations to monitor what’s available on the drug market. They’re Aotearoa’s high-risk drug early warning system, and it’s their job to spot anything high risk.

They’re the ones that told us about the synthetic opioid being sold as oxycodone back in March, and have been literal lifesavers many, many times over.

That’s not what I ordered…

When people’s drugs had been swapped out for something completely different, the main substance the combined data showed was synthetic cathinones, like eutylone and dimethylpentylone (usually in MDMA).

When they were a mixture of the presumed drug and something else, the main substance we found was caffeine, creatine (a non-psychoactive workout supplement) and synthetic cathinones.

The top drugs that were either adulterated or swapped out completely

The drugs we see most of the time aren’t necessarily the ones that are most commonly adulterated or swapped out.

MDMA

When MDMA had been swapped out for something completely different, the main substances the combined data showed was synthetic cathinones and caffeine.

When it was a mixture of the MDMA and something else, the main other substances we found were cathinones and caffeine.

The most common synthetic cathinone we saw was eutylone, but we also saw 3CMC, 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone) and dimethylpentylone amongst others.

Amphetamine (speed)

When amphetamine had things added to it or had been swapped for something else, this was usually caffeine, methamphetamine and phenethylamine. This is risky because the mixing of stimulants can cause insomnia which leads to psychosis, and heart problems.

Cocaine

When cocaine had been swapped out for something completely different, the main substances the combined data showed were caffeine, methamphetamine, and creatine. We also saw cocaine swapped for drugs like ephedrine and phenmetrazine.

When cocaine was mixed with other things it was most commonly caffeine and creatine.

Methampethamine

When methamphetamine had been swapped out for something completely different, the main substances the combined data showed were isopropylbenzylamine and ephedrine.

When methamphetamine was mixed with other things, it was most commonly pseudoephedrine and non-psychoactive fillers.

Ketamine

When ketamine had been swapped out for something completely different, the main substance the combined data showed was caffeine, or non-psychoactive binders such as dimethyl sulfone (MSM).

When ketamine was mixed with other things, it was also most commonly caffeine or MSM.

Data collated by KnowYourStuffNZ, The NZ Needle Exchange Program (NEST), and the NZ Drug Foundation.

Caveat: All organizations may collect the data differently, so there may be discrepancies in the cumulative data.

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