KnowYourStuffNZ’s summer media coverage

The media gets plenty of stick but honestly, we’ve had pretty good coverage this summer (and lots of it). It’s mostly been reasonable, journalists have been sticking to the facts, and willing to make corrections when errors slip in.

Two areas did stand out where the media (and other public messages) could be better. The first was the coverage around KnowYourStuffNZ’s finding of Fentanyl. Yes, it’s scary stuff and we strongly recommend people do not take it. However, NZ is not in the same situation as the USA, where Fentanyl and other opioids are killing tens of thousands each year. Some of the media stories wanted to push a sensationalist epidemic line.  That’s not helpful. What keeps people safe is clear and honest reporting.

The second area was police and district health boards putting out poorly written warnings about dangerous drugs. The initial warnings about n-ethylpentylone in Christchurch contained no useful information. Warnings about dangerous drugs need to cover:

  • what the drug is thought to be
  • how to identify it
  • what the effects are
  • and how to stay safe

To be fair, the DHB and police did pick up on some of the language that KnowYourStuff uses and the follow-up messages were much more useful. However, when you’ve got thirteen people in hospital, its pretty important to get your warnings right. We would like to see consistent and accurate messaging, and collaboration between agencies on the content of drug alerts.

Radio NZ, 21 January: Festival tent testing fake highs

Newshub, 2 February: MDMA buyers at festivals getting ‘seedy’, more potent alternative

Radio Live, 4 February: Legalise All Drugs? Ross Bell & Wendy Allison

Newstalk ZB, 27 February: 15-year-old amongst those affected by faulty ecstasy

TVNZ, 27 February: ‘No useful information’ – drug-checking company says DHB should give specifics of ecstasy batch that put users in hospital

Vice, 27 February: Possible Bad Batch of NZ Ecstasy Hospitalises Thirteen

Stuff, 9 March: Deadly new Wellington drug ring busted as police seize cash, cars, and drugs

Radio NZ, 9 March: Lately with Karyn Hay

Vice, 14 March: Here’s What Was In the Bad Batch of MDMA That Put 13 Kiwis in Hospital

Newstalk ZB, 15 March: Calls for early warning system over potentially harmful drugs

NZ Drug Foundation, 19 March: Let’s take the ambulance to the top of the cliff

Stuff, 19 March: On-site drug testing at Homegrown a no-go despite faux-ecstasy doing the rounds

Metro News, 19 March: Why New Zealand festivals can’t deal to the drug problem

Radio NZ, 20 March: Homegrown festival warned of dangerous fake ecstasy drug

Vice, 21 March: Deadly Opiate Fentanyl Found Cut With Drugs at NZ Festivals

Public Address, 21 March: Fentanyl: it’s here

Radio Live, 21 March: Why the Misuse of Drugs Act has been called ‘out of date’

TVNZ, 21 March: Super-strong opiate Fentanyl detected in New Zealand for the first time

Radio NZ, 21 March: More fentanyl is coming into NZ, and authorities are worried

NZ Herald, 21 March: Deadly opiate fentanyl found at a Kiwi festival

TVNZ, 21 March: First ever fentanyl detection in NZ’s illicit drug market sparks calls for legal drug testing

NZ Herald, 22 March: Helen Clark backs festival drug-testing and injecting rooms

TVNZ, 22 March: Push to legalise recreational drug testing as deadly Fentanyl detected in NZ’s drug market

The Spinoff, 22 March: Cheat Sheet: the world’s most dangerous drug arrives in New Zealand

NZDF Matters of Substance, March: Keeping safe under summer skies

Viva La Hardcore, 3 April: Know Your Stuff; Chatting about Drugs and Drug Testing

Stuff, 4 April: Fentanyl linked to 11 deaths in New Zealand since 2011

Salient, 9 April: The New Drug on the Block

NewsWire, 15 April: Deadly drug fentanyl prompts appeal for users to get $8.50 test

Yeah, that’s lots of coverage.

KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded entirely by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.

Nosebleeds are the least of your worries – why snorting is a bad idea

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Remember when you were four and your Mum used to tell you not to put things up your nose?  Turns out lots of kiwis didn’t listen. According to Adam Winstock of the Global Drug Survey, 30% of kiwis who use MDMA insufflate (snort) it. That’s nearly twice the global average.

There’s a general view out there that snorting MDMA gives you more ‘bang for buck’ because when snorted the high comes on faster and more intensely.  However it also wears off faster, leading to higher likelihood of redosing – so over the course of an evening a user may end up taking more than usual, which is both expensive and risky. Snorting also carries its own set of risks:

  • Putting dry, potentially irritant powders on the nasal lining can lead to injury, loss of sense of smell, and long term respiratory problems.
  • When you snort a substance much of it goes directly to the bloodstream, bypassing the stomach and liver filters. This is what leads to the faster, more intense high.  However this lack of filtering can also exacerbate the negative effects of the drug, such as anxiety and nausea.
  • Faster routes of administration are associated with higher risk of forming dependence.
  • What if it’s not the drug you think it is?

This last one is a real concern in New Zealand. By now it’s old news that cathinone substitution is an issue here. We’ve talked about it at length this summer. We’ve found cathinones in samples presumed to be MDMA and in ones obtained as cocaine, both substances commonly snorted by kiwis.

Remember how we said above that a faster, more intense high can also exacerbate the negative effects? If the ‘MDMA’ is actually n-ethylpentylone and you snort 100mg of it, you’ve just bypassed the stomach and liver filters on a triple dose and you’re most likely in for a faster, more intense, up to 36-hour-long very unpleasant time that may well land you in hospital or worse. 


We hear this story far too often – someone snorts what they think is MDMA and then comes to us with a list of scary symptoms ending with “That definitely wasn’t MDMA.” The bottom line is that these people are lucky to be alive. While they have probably learned their lesson, there are still many people out there who snort powders without knowing how risky it is.

To lower your chances of death, remember the following:

  • Listen to your Mum – don’t put random stuff up your nose
  • Don’t let your friends put random stuff up their noses either
  • Unless it’s been tested, it’s *all* random stuff.

Stay safe out there NZ.

KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded entirely by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.

Fentanyl found at New Zealand festival

Testing by KnowYourStuffNZ has identified a sample containing Fentanyl, a drug which has killed a significant number of people in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada in the last two years.

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.

The most reliable testing method is the Fentanyl testing strip. These can detect small amounts of Fentanyl and analogues, are simple to use, and are available from Hempstore.

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Test strip showing a positive finding of Fentanyl

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.

KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded entirely by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.

Deliberately Deceptive Drug Mixtures Found This Summer

Testing by KnowYourStuffNZ this summer has revealed that some festival goers have been sold deliberately deceptive mixtures of drugs. Some mixtures were sold as MDMA but contained only small amounts of MDMA alongside more toxic chemicals. Some mixtures were sold as cocaine but instead contained mixes of stimulants and anaesthetics.

Our testing has shown that the quality of substances sold on the illicit market is variable and poor. In many cases, substances sold are not as expected. However, this summer we have seen mixtures that appear to be made up to deliberately mislead people.

For example, cocaine produces a numbing effect in the nose and mouth. We have seen mixtures that contain no cocaine at all but only benzocaine and cathinones (“bath salts”). The benzocaine (a local anaesthetic found in cough lozenges) produces the numbing effect; the cathinones duplicate the stimulant effects. In these cases, the cathinones were n-ethylbuphedrone and ethylmethcathinone, which have longer duration and more toxic effects than cocaine.

Several samples supposedly of MDMA were a mix of MDMA and cathinones. We believe that these mixtures were made up to fool reagent testing – the MDMA produces dark colours with commonly-available reagent tests, masking the colours from the unwanted cathinones. These combinations are particularly risky due to the different potencies of these substances. One sample seen was 50/50 mix of MDMA and n-ethylpentylone (a new substance that we called “this summer’s crap drug”). An active dose of MDMA is around 100 mg; a dose of n-ethylpentylone is 30 mg. If someone weighs out 100 mg of this mixture, they will take nearly two doses of n-ethylpentylone (already a risky dose) and only half a dose of MDMA..

Inevitably, unregulated markets have poor quality control and unscrupulous dealers will sell products that maximise their profits, putting consumers’ health at risk. Pill testing allows drug users to discover the quality of their purchases and avoid these risks.  We recommend that all drug users test before they ingest any substance.

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KnowYourStuffNZ uses both reagent testing and infra-red spectrometry to discover these mixtures. However, an infra-red spectrometer costs $50,000 and this is not accessible outside of events that KnowYourStuffNZ attends.

Reagents for testing are available for much more affordable prices from suppliers such as Hempstore, but as the mixtures found this summer demonstrate, reagents have their limits. They would have identified the substitute cocaine; they would not have detected the adulterated MDMA. We still recommend reagent testing to drug users despite the limitations, as some testing is better than none – however the results from reagent testing are no guarantee and all substances should be approached with caution.

KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded entirely by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.

“Faulty batch” warning not helpful

A warning has been released by Canterbury DHB after 9 people presented at Christchurch hospital Saturday night.

Unfortunately it appears that the DHB is speculating about what the people had taken in the absence of knowing for certain, and have released a vague warning about a ‘faulty batch’. There is no such thing as a faulty batch.

KnowYourStuffNZ in its testing of ‘MDMA’ this year has found:

Any of these would have associated potential dangers, but none of them are a ‘faulty batch of MDMA’.

The information in the alert is of almost no use to users. The warning contains no mention that the substance could be something completely different, no description of the substance, and no information about what sort of symptoms a user may experience that would signify danger. This warning might as well say “Don’t take MDMA.” Such an approach has been entirely ineffective at stopping people taking MDMA to date.

This is why New Zealand needs a properly-functioning Early Warning System, with protocols for what an effective, harm-reduction-focused warning looks like. At the very least, a warning should contain:

  • a description of the substance so users know what to avoid
  • information about the content of the substance – if this is not known, that should be made clear and warnings should refrain from speculation
  • information about symptoms that signal danger.

We have released four alerts about substances of concern since the beginning of 2018. Right now, we are NZ’s Early Warning System. This is not good enough. The NZ government has been talking for years about implementing one, but the talk has not resulted in action. Warnings are left to DHBs with limited knowledge of illicit drugs and harm reduction, and community groups such as ourselves.

The government needs to step up and progress the national Early Warning System immediately. Meanwhile, we will continue to release information about substances of concern as they arise.

On the topic of the Christchurch mystery drug, our advice is:

  • Approach all unknown substances with extreme caution.
  • Unless they have been tested and confirmed to contain the desired substance and only the desired substance, they are *all* unknown.
  • Substitution, adulteration, and extremely high dose pills are all currently being found in the market.
  • When using, it is much better to take a fraction of a dose and await developments (at least an hour) than to take the whole thing without knowing what it is and risk a trip to the hospital.

Be careful out there, folks.

[EDIT: Three weeks after thirteen people were hospitalised in Christchurch after ingesting this mystery substance, NZ Police confirmed that the substance was n-ethylpentylone. We published our warning about this substance two weeks before this event and five weeks before the Police. This shows that KnowYourStuffNZ is already acting as New Zealand’s drug early warning system. However, we are constrained by the legal grey area that we operate in. Clarifying the law and allowing us to operate openly will save lives.]

KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded entirely by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.