Drug checking – beyond the festival season

For some time now, KnowYourStuff NZ and the NZ Drug Foundation have been checking drugs at music festivals and handing out potentially lifesaving advice.

But festivals are mainly a summer event, and we all know that drug-taking is not limited to summer or fesitvals. So in the interests of public safety, we’re extending a trial of our drug checking service to include the winter months in Wellington CBD.

Starting Thursday 18 July, we’ll be offering discreet, confidential and free drug checking once a month at the Drug Foundation office in Wellington. We hope that in time we can run the service all year round, from multiple locations across New Zealand.

Volunteers from KnowYourStuffNZ and the Drug Foundation use a combination of infrared technology and reagent testing, which allows them to identify over 95 percent of substances.

We’re proud of our success rate: A client survey by KnowYourStuffNZ  showed that most people taking drugs understand the risks and will take them anyway, but three years of data consistently shows that when confronted with a test result that reveals their substance is not what they thought, many people will choose not to take it.

Drug checking is also a unique opportunity for volunteers to offer tailored harm reduction advice, and potentially get people thinking more actively about their drug use.

Participants are always reminded that the safest option is to not take a substance.

Check our website for some great news, results and other information. Or take a look at the Drug Foundation’s website for a section on keeping safe.

  • The first service begins on Thursday 18 July.  Come up to level 4, 265 Wakefield St, from 5.30 – 7.30pm.

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KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded 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.

 

 

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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