Mid-season update – what drugs are at festivals this summer

This season, much like last summer, has seen more n-ethylpentylone and more high dose MDMA.

N-ethylpentylone has become the main adulterant in MDMA and our main substance of concern. N-ethylpentylone is in the cathinone family of drugs, sometimes referred to as “bath salts.” In previous years we’ve seen all sorts of different substances sold as MDMA. This year vast majority of substitutions have been only n-ethylpentylone, a drug that we’ve heard called “a shit time for a long time.”

If a sample is presumed to be MDMA but tests show that it’s not, it is most likely n-ethylpentylone. A new development has been a number of samples of both pressed pills and crystal which contain MDMA mixed with n-ethylpentylone, a combination which led to us issuing an alert just after New Year about blue crown pills. These mixtures will appear to be MDMA in a reagent test, but could lead to unexpected consequences including anxiety, heart palpitations, and insomnia. N-ethylpentylone has been implicated in two deaths overseas and numerous mass hospitalisations, including in New Zealand. You can read more about n-ethylpentylone on our website.

We have also seen a continuation of the pressed pills containing 2-3 doses of MDMA. Pink Porsches, Green Guccis, Yellow Rolexes, and Blue Louis Vuitton pills are all still around, and should be approached with extreme caution. We also have some evidence that these pills are now being copied. Copycat pills could contain anything, including toothpaste, so we recommend testing even with a ‘known’ press. New high-dose pills we have tested include a pink pill shaped like a Canadian maple leaf that is estimated to contain 3 standard doses of MDMA. Even taking less than a whole pill has resulted in people needing medical attention this summer, so treat these with caution.

There is also a lot of supposedly MDMA crystal around that tests as MDMA. Care should be taken with this – even when a substance is what you are hoping for, it’s still not “safe”. Measuring doses by eye is a particularly unsafe practice in the current climate, as is snorting.

We recommend approaching even tested substances with extreme caution. Start small – half or less than the dose you would normally take – and start slow – wait at least an hour to gauge the effects before considering  having more. We also recommend against snorting these substances. It’s damaging to your nose, the effects will wear off faster, and you may be be tempted to take more. It’s more harmful and more expensive, so if you are taking anything, oral is the safer route.

This summer we have also been asked by event medics to let people know that they shouldn’t be afraid to seek them out if they do get into difficulties. The medics want you to know they are there to help, and they will do it in confidence. If you are at all concerned about your wellbeing at an event, please go see them.

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

Media coverage for January

This summer is our busiest season yet, with the Police Minister Stuart Nash supporting drug checking and our New Year alert about n-ethyl pentylone reaching 85,000 people. Of course, that kicked off quite a bit of media coverage:

Newshub, 2 January: Drug testing uncovers more laced pills at music festival
Radio NZ, 2 January: Testing shows MDMA pills laced with bath salts
Radio NZ, 3 January: Summer festival drugs ‘designed to baffle tests
Sky News Australia, 3 January: NZ doctor lauds effective drug testing program
Radio NZ, 3 January: No room for vagueness in drug testing at music festivals
Gisbourne Herald, 3 January: Minister backs festival drug tests
Sydney Morning Herald, 4 January: What is pill testing?
Stuff, 4 January: Editorial: It’s high time for drug testing
MSN, 7 January: New Zealand unveils plans to have pill testing at ALL music festivals – as Australia refuses to discuss the idea despite five overdose deaths since September
Stuff, 8 January: Dr Cathy Stephenson: Telling your kids to stay away from drugs can backfire
Vice, 10 January: Why New Zealand Needs Legal Drug Testing at its Summer Festivals
The Big Smoke, 14 January: Pill testing saves lives, it doesn’t create addicts
Insights, 16 January: What you should know about pill-testing
95bfm, 19 January: Safe Drug Testing w/ Know Your Stuff
Newshub, 22 January: Poll: Do you think testing drugs at summer festivals should be publicly funded?
Science Media Centre NZ, 25 January: Festival drug testing – Expert Reaction
Stuff, 25 January: Free drug testing in spotlight as festival season kicks off
Māori Television, 25 January: What’s really in that pill? The festival drug testing debate
NZ Herald, 28 January: Lee Suckling: Are music festivals unsafe?

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

ALERT: Blue pills containing n-ethylpentylone and MDMA

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N-ethylpentylone found in pills obtained as MDMA

KnowYourStuffNZ tested pills over the New Year and found a particularly dangerous substance mixed with MDMA. Five pills from separate sources were tested and all were found to contain low amounts of MDMA and potentially dangerous levels of n-ethylpentylone.

N-ethylpentylone is a stimulant from the cathinone family, also called “bath salts”. It may produce short-lived euphoria followed by a long period of overstimulation including racing heart, high blood pressure, anxiety, overheating, and inability to sleep for up to 36 hours.  In large doses it has been associated with deaths overseas and hospitalisations in New Zealand. Because of the high redose compulsion and low active dose, it is very easy to overdose. You can read more about n-ethylpentylone at our website.

The identified pills are pale blue and round with slight speckling and a four-pointed crown stamped on one side.  

MDMA NEP NYE 2018

When tested with Marquis and Mandelin reagents they show the black colour change associated with MDMA. Testing with the more reliable FT-IR spectroscopy has confirmed these pills also contain high levels of n-ethylpentylone. The amount of n-ethylpentylone present may vary between pills. Users of single pills have reported anxiety and unpleasant experiences which may be potentially dangerous.

REAGENT TESTING WILL NOT REVEAL THIS ADULTERATION.

It is likely that these pills have spread throughout New Zealand, therefore any substance that looks like this should be treated as dangerous regardless of your location.  

N-ethylpentylone was also detected in powders and crystals of various colours. In total, approximately 15% of “MDMA” tested over New Years was found to contain n-ethylpentylone. Please approach all untested substances with extreme caution:

  • safest of all, do not take it
  • if consuming, start small, start slow – take a third or less, and wait at least an hour before having more
  • do not snort or inject
  • do not mix with other substances, including alcohol
  • do not take alone

If you think you may have inadvertently consumed n-ethylpentylone and are concerned, please contact your nearest medical service and be honest about what you believe you have taken.  

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

 

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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