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.

“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.

Know Your Stuff-29

This summer’s crap drug: n-ethylpentylone

If it isn’t MDMA, then it’s very likely to be a new drug called n-ethylpentylone, testing by KnowYourStuffNZ has revealed.

Testing at festivals has shown that around one quarter of the drugs that people believe to be MDMA (ecstasy) are not as expected. The most most common substitutions for MDMA come from the cathinone family of stimulants (“bath salts”) and the most common cathinone seen this year is n-ethylpentylone. KnowYourStuffNZ have seen this drug at every event we have attended this summer.

N-ethylpentylone is a new substance, also known as ephylone and βk-EPDB. It was first seen in the USA in 2016. KnowYourStuffNZ testing found small amounts  in New Zealand in early 2017, and it arrived at UK festivals for their 2017 summer. Testing at events this summer is showing it to be much more available now, often found as white or coloured powder that looks exactly the same as samples confirmed to be MDMA.

This stimulant produces some of the same effects as MDMA, but users have described the experience as “seedy”, “cracky”, and much less pleasant. Physical effects can include raised pulse and blood pressure, high body temperature, convulsions, acidosis, and rapid muscle breakdown. Psychological effects include agitation, paranoia, compulsion to redose, difficulty sleeping for up to 36 hours, and temporary psychosis. As this drug is so new, little can be said about the health risks of long-term use. We also do not know much about risks of mixing this with other substances but like other cathinones it should not be taken with alcohol.

A particular risk is that n-ethylpentylone is significantly more potent than MDMA so it is very easy to take too much. A common dose for MDMA is around 100 milligrams, whereas a dose for n-ethylpentylone can be as little as 30 milligrams. If people believe they have MDMA and take 100 milligrams of n-ethylpentylone, then they are going to be in a very risky situation.

This drug has already caused deaths overseas. KnowYourStuffNZ recommends that you do not take this drug and that you test any substance before you take it.

[EDIT: Two weeks after KnowYourStuffNZ published this alert on n-ethylpentylone, thirteen people were hospitalised in Christchurch after ingesting a mystery substance. Five weeks after we published this alert, NZ Police confirmed that the substance was n-ethylpentylone. 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.

 

Cathinones still a concern for 2018 festival season

The media has been making much of our alert that there may be MDMA out there in higher doses than usual. One thing that’s being somewhat under-reported is the fact that we are also seeing substitution of MDMA for cathinones at roughly the same rate as last season.

What this means is that approximately 1 in 5 samples we’ve tested so far that were supposed to be MDMA, are something completely different. The thing they have mostly turned out to be is one or another of the cathinones (bath salts is the name that seems to be sticking for these).

Cathinones we’ve found so far this year:

  • n-ethylpentylone
  • n-ethylbuphedrone
  • methylone
  • 4-methylethcathinone
  • methcathinone
  • one example of a cathinone not yet listed in the database that we also encountered last season. This one is completely new and we have no idea what it is.

There is no way of knowing by looking at a sample whether it’s MDMA or one of these potentially risky substitutes. Even if reagents detect a cathinone, there is no way of discerning between them without further testing.

One of the biggest risks with cathinones is that people are usually expecting MDMA, and when they don’t get the feeling they are expecting, they will often assume they have a low-dose or ‘dud’ pill, and then take more. With any drug this can be risky, but with unknown cathinones it’s even more so because they all have different active and toxic doses, so taking extra could be the difference between disappointment and a trip to the hospital, or worse.

Please, never assume you have what you think you have – test before you ingest. It could save your life.

More basic info about cathinones at the NZ Drug Foundation website – please note that we have seen cathinones in all sorts of formats so don’t assume that if it’s not a white powder, you’re safe.

For specific information about individual substances we recommend ErowidTripSit, and PsychonautWiki.

[EDIT] Something else we should mention is that we have also found our first sample that was mostly cathinone (n-ethylpentylone) but with a tiny amount of MDMA in it as well.

Because the colour of the MDMA reaction in the standard Marquis and Mandelin reagent tests is dark and happens fast, the cathinone reaction (yellow Marquis, muddy brown/green Mandelin) would be very hard, if not impossible to see.  Our sample reagent tested as MDMA only.
 
We suspect the MDMA may have been added deliberately in order to baffle reagent tests, as it appears to be present in such a tiny amount that it would not affect the user experience.
 
This is concerning because we know many people, in the absence of public access to spectrometer testing, are using reagents to try and keep themselves safe. Be careful out there, folks.
KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded entirely by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.