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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.

Today’s message is short and simple – test your GHB.

We are aware that GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyrate) is used recreationally at events, even though it’s not often brought to KnowYourStuffNZ for testing. It’s one of the substances that people think doesn’t need testing because it comes in an easily recognisable format. However, all of the samples brought to us as GHB this summer have turned out to be GBL (gamma-Butyrolactone).

GBL is chemically very similar to GHB and converts to GHB quickly once it enters the body. However it’s also two to three times stronger, making the amount required to overdose much lower. The amount that will cause an overdose is also bodyweight dependent, which means taking a GHB-sized dose of GBL can easily lead to overdose and death – especially for smaller people. Adding other drugs increases the risk. Alcohol is especially dangerous to combine with GHB or GBL.

It’s important to know whether you have GHB or GBL before ingesting – please test it first.  If you done have access to KnowYourStuffNZ’s testing service, test kits can be purchased here. Avoid combining it with alcohol, other depressants, stimulants, or dissociatives. As ever, know what you are taking and research the risks.

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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More drugs do not mean more fun

There are still plenty of festivals left before the end of the season and KnowYourStuffNZ would like to remind everyone that you do not need to take all the drugs all at once. In fact, you’re much less likely to die if you don’t.

In New Zealand, the vast majority of deaths associated with illicit drugs are found to have involved more than one substance. The most common factor in these deaths is alcohol – many people don’t see alcohol as a real drug, but it’s objectively one of the more harmful, and it’s a bad idea to mix it with many other substances.

In particular the combination of alcohol and GHB is extremely dangerous as they act on the same receptors in the brain. Together they slow your breathing. If you take too much, you stop breathing and die. This summer, several drug related hospitalisations we are aware of have been due to this combination.

TripSit’s combination chart indicates that alcohol is unsafe or dangerous when taken with many of the other drugs we most commonly see at festivals – MDMA, ketamine, cocaine, and cathinones (such as methylone and n-ethylpentylone).

Stimulants are the other major group of ‘festival drugs’ that shouldn’t be used with other things – and particularly not with other stimulants. They increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature, and put a lot of strain on your systems. Adding more stimulants can greatly increase the risks. Amphetamines, MDMA, cocaine, and cathinones (“bath salts”) are all stimulants. And let’s not forget caffeine, which can be dangerous in very high doses or in combination with other stimulants.

Apart from the immediate stresses on the body, stimulants also tend to reduce appetite and prevent sleep. Mixing drugs and then not taking care of basic bodily needs is one of the major factors in drug related problems we see at events.

Put simply, combining drugs is an expensive and often pointless way to risk your life. You can’t enjoy a festival if you are unconscious or have been rushed to hospital.

We strongly advise against combining drugs. To reduce risk of harm, we suggest the following:

  • only one thing at a time
  • in between sessions: Rest, Eat, Rehydrate.
  • stay alive!
KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded entirely by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.

tripsit interaction guide