Where to from here?

Early in the New Year, Police Minister Hon Stuart Nash, speaking about drug checking at festivals, said “I think they’re a fantastic idea and should be installed at all our festivals.” While this was met with cautious optimism from those seeking reform, not everyone was celebrating. An editorial in the NZ Herald raised the concern that “Testing drugs for safety can send the wrong message”. Nearly everyone agreed that we need to understand the implications before proceeding.

As the leaders of KnowYourStuffNZ, the organisation providing drug safety testing at music festivals, we would like to reassure everyone that few young people care about what message the government, or the NZ Herald, is sending about drug use. Festival-goers will continue to use drugs regardless.

KnowYourStuffNZ sends a message that festival-goers do care about, with every test we perform. The message: we don’t want people to die and we trust our clients to make safer decisions with the information we give them. People listen to our message and the results from our work are clear. When people have drugs that are contaminated or more dangerous than expected, the majority will not take them and many will destroy their drugs in front of us. For an endorsement our results, ask the medics at festivals we attend. Every single one will say how thankful they are for our service and how obvious it is that we are reducing drug-related harms.

Moralising doesn’t change people’s behaviour. Respect, useful information, and a non-judgemental stance does.

Despite their qualms, the NZ Herald rightly asks the important question – “Exactly how are these drug-testing stations at music festivals going to work?” We’ve been asking ourselves this question too and we look forward to open and evidence-based consideration of the following matters:

The legal situation for testing services needs to be clarified. For instance, we only require a tiny amount (much less than a pill) for testing. It’s never returned to the client as that would be the crime of supply. We’re fine with that. However, we would like to be allowed to be in possession of a substance so that we could take a sample away for laboratory analysis. Currently we can’t do that. We have already seen one new cathinone this summer that we could not identify using our field FT-IR spectrometer. Using a fully-equipped lab, it could have been identified.

The liability of testing services needs to be set. For instance, we never describe a sample as “safe”, as every substance has risks (except maybe the pill that was mostly toothpaste). We never describe a sample as “not contaminated”, as every testing method has limits on what it will detect. We already provide warnings about the specific drugs identified and advice on safer behaviour as a part of the testing process. Despite this, there will still be harms from drug use, even for people who have used a testing service, just are there are for any health service.

Our service and other harm reduction developments should be linked. The Government is introducing a drug early warning system, where Police, Customs, and District Health Boards provide alerts about dangerous drugs. We’ve been doing this for several years now – our January warning on n-ethylpentylone reached over 80,000 people. So how will this system work? Is everyone working in this space willing to share information? We hope so.

The required quality of testing services should be decided. We don’t want a repeat of the methamphetamine scam where any cowboy could set up testing. Right now there is no accreditation for testing services, and no formal training or qualifications for volunteers. For example, what equipment is suitable? We think that the laser spectrometers used by police at Rhythm and Vines are too likely to give false readings, whereas the FT-IR spectrometers we use are much better at distinguishing substances and mixtures. However, our spectrometers cost more than twice as much, so we can see the temptation to use cheaper equipment.

There’s also a discussion to be had about how this is funded. Currently, we are funded entirely by donations. This isn’t sustainable if, as the Police Minister Stuart Nash suggests, testing should be at all large summer festivals. That’s a major scale-up. We have been lucky to be gifted the use of our testing equipment by the New Zealand Drug Foundation, but a spectrometer runs to $50,000. That’s not possible for a volunteer-run organisation. There are a range of business models possible, from public funding as for the NZ Needle Exchange Programme, support from the Criminal Proceeds Fund, to festivals paying and on-charging in the ticket price just as they do for the portaloos. What funding model will be the best fit with this service? We don’t know yet.

To be fair, drug safety testing is an evolving field with different models used in different countries. We are working with groups in the UK and Australia to develop best practice and are happy to learn from groups in Europe who have been testing drugs for nearly twenty years.

We look forward to discussing these questions as the Government puts in place legislation to enable us to operate openly. It is in everyone’s interests to make sure that drug-testing stations at music festivals do work.

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

Suspected high-dose MDMA pills tested by KnowYourStuffNZ 2018/2019 season

KnowYourStuffNZ has found pills containing potentially dangerous high doses of MDMA during the 2018/2019 festival season. These pills were found at events throughout New Zealand.

They should be approached with caution. Users are advised that the only way to guarantee safety is to not take them. For those who do choose to take them, our recommendation is to only take a third of a pill at most, and wait at least an hour before considering taking any more.

These pills have been tested to contain MDMA and a variety of fillers. No other psychoactives have been detected in these, despite anecdotal reports that they also contain ketamine.

A common dose of MDMA is around 80-120 milligrams, depending upon a user’s body weight. Some of the pills that KnowYourStuffNZ have tested this summer contained up to four doses in one pill.

Taking too much MDMA can result in a very unpleasant experience, health risks, and sometimes even death. If you or someone you know has taken one of these pills and experiences dizziness and vomiting, a sharp rise in body temperature, muscle cramping, heart palpitations, seizures, or unconsciousness, seek medical attention immediately.

Please note that the amount of MDMA present is an estimate only as our technology cannot directly measure dosage or purity. The spectrometer can provide a rough percentage of MDMA content in a sample and we use this combined with the weight of the pill to reach these estimates. The estimated dosage should be treated as an indication only and we recommend always erring on the side of caution.

Suspected high dose pills include:

Purple Defqon

Purple/pink, round, logo of Defqon festival one side only

Weight: 320mg

Estimated to contain 150-200mg MDMA

Defqon IMG_20190222_164253 balanced sheared

Colour and size reference chart
(1 square= 1cm2)
Pink Porsche

Bright pink, shield shape, Porsche logo one side

Weight: 350mg

Estimated to contain 200-250mg MDMA

PP example pic
Pink Maple Leaf

Pink, Canadian maple leaf shape, ‘D2’ on one side, ‘ICON’ on the other

Weight: 330mg

Estimated to contain 200-300mg MDMA

Pink Maple leaf Icon side - Copy

Pink Maple leaf D2 side - Copy

Yellow Rolex

Bright yellow, Rolex crown logo shape, crown stamp one side

Weight: 350mg

Estimated to contain 200-300mg MDMA

No photo available
Green/grey Skull

Green and/or grey, unusual cylindrical shape, skull stamped on one end, crown on the other

Weight: 600mg

Estimated to contain 400mg MDMA

No photo available
Purple Tomorrowland

Purple pill, Tomorrowland logo

Weight: 470mg

Estimated to contain 200-300mg MDMA

No photo available
Grey Pharaoh

Blue/grey/purple, (shape?), Egyptian head on one side, “Warning, 240mg” on other.

Weight: 500mg

Estimated to contain 200-300mg MDMA

No photo available
Blue or Yellow Visa

Blue or yellow  pill, rectangular with rounded edges, Visa logo

Reported as high dose but no weight or content estimate available. Approach with caution.

No photo available

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

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

cropped-knowyourstuffnz-logo-june-2017.png

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.