Minister of Health makes a positive step towards the change we want to see

KnowYourStuffNZ welcomes the move by Health Minister David Clark, announced today, to seek advice about the removal of legal barriers to drug safety testing in New Zealand.

This follows recent Government moves to promote a health and harm-reduction focused approach to drug policy, as expressed by Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s statements to the United Nations this week. A model for this approach is outlined by the New Zealand Drug Foundation in their Whakawātea te Huarahi – A model drug law to 2020 and beyond.

KnowYourStuffNZ’s experience providing harm reduction services at festivals and events for the last four years has shown that pill testing is an effective and pragmatic way to keep people safer. Our results match the overseas experience of organisations such as The Loop in the UK, Dancesafe in the USA, and the Drugs Information and Monitoring System in the Netherlands.

The Misuse of Drugs Act currently hinders people’s access to pill testing at events. Section 12 of the Act makes it a criminal offense to knowingly permit a venue to be used for drug consumption. The presence of pill testing at events would demonstrate that the event organisers know that people use drugs there and that is the barrier. KnowYourStuffNZ would like to see the Act clarified to make these services explicitly legal. (Our page exploring this issue in more detail.)

This clarification could be achieved by changing the wording of Section 12 of the Act to include an exemption for event organisers who engage drug related harm reduction services.

Wendy Allison, managing director of KnowYourStuffNZ says “Section 12 was never intended to prevent harm reduction services from happening at events. An unintended consequence of the Section has been to deter event organisers from providing harm reduction services such as pill testing. Removing this barrier is an obvious step towards keeping people safe.”

KnowYourStuffNZ provides drug related harm reduction services including pill testing in partnership with the New Zealand Drug Foundation.

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

 

 

KnowYourStuffNZ drug checking results for 2017/2018 festival season

In a summer that saw New Zealand’s first mass hospitalisation at a dance party due to fake MDMA, our testing has identified more new psychoactive substances than ever before.

In partnership with NZ Drug Foundation, we used FTIR spectroscopy and reagents at seven festivals to test 445 samples of illicit drugs brought in voluntarily by users, an increase of over 100 since last year.  We found that the overall percentage of samples that were ‘as presumed’ increased from 68% to 79%, driven largely by an increase in the quantity of genuine MDMA alongside a higher proportion of MDMA among the samples tested.

In other words, we have seen more MDMA and more of it has been real – nearly 60% of samples brought in for testing were presumed to be MDMA, up from just over 50% last season.  Of these, the percentage that were actually MDMA increased from 63% to 83%.

However, people should not assume the market is safer than last year. We have also seen pills containing very high doses of MDMA , n-ethylpentylone sold as MDMA, and several new substances – a few of which we couldn’t identify. These all have the potential to be very dangerous.

We identified 44 different psychoactive substances in samples this season, 12 of which were cathinones (“bath salts”). 40% of samples that were not as presumed were cathinones  – and one third of those were n-ethylpentylone. In 9 cases, cathinones and other substances were found mixed in with MDMA.

KnowYourStuffNZ issued an alert about n-ethylpentylone  in February, a week prior to the hospitalisation of 13 people who inadvertently took the drug at an event in Christchurch.  This season our testing prevented several other groups from taking n-ethylpentylone that they thought was MDMA. The Christchurch hospitalisations may also have been prevented if those people had access to drug checking.

Ross Bell, Executive Director of NZ Drug Foundation, agrees: “These results strengthen the case for essential drug checking services to be provided at more festivals, events and clubs, and highlight the urgent need for the government to establish its Early Warning System for drugs and to incorporate drug checking services into that system.”

The good news is that when a sample was not as presumed, 58% of clients then said they would not take it – a result consistent with previous years.  This is a no-brainer – when you give people accurate information about drugs, they make better choices.

This year 70% of KnowYourStuffNZ’s clients said that seeing us is the first time they have talked to a drug-related health service about their drug use – evidence that drug checking has an important role in reducing harm to a community that is not seen by other services.

Drug checking is gaining support overseas, with Australia’s ACT government planning to expand pill testing at events after a successful trial in May, and the UK Home Office last week stating that drug checking services are legal and it will not stand in the way of initiatives there. It’s now time the New Zealand government acted to support drug checking here. We have been doing this for four years with consistently good results, yet Australia is a long way ahead in terms of official support and taking action on needed law changes. They are putting us to shame.

More detailed results can be found on the ‘Our Results’ page.

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

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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.