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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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.

Final results for 2016/2017 now available

After a massive effort from the team and a rerun of a number of spectra to capture database updates, we are now able to publish our final results for the 2016/2017 season.

n-ethylpentylone

This year’s emerging substance group of concern at events is the cathinone family, a group of related substances that are often substituted for MDMA.   A particular worry is n-ethylpentylone, which we found at every event to which we took the spectrometer.  N-ethylpentylone appeared on the illicit market in mid-2016 and its physiological and toxicological effects have not yet been characterised, making it extremely risky to ingest.  Additionally, we found two distinct new cathinones that have not yet been identified in the TICTAC database, and have not been seen by other drug checking organisations overseas.

Good news is that we found fewer samples of NBOMe substituted for LSD, however it is still around and extreme caution is advised.   We are aware that GHB is making a comeback in popularity, although the only sample we’ve seen tested as GBL.

We are expecting and preparing for Fentanyl, which has been implicated in a large number of deaths overseas, to arrive in New Zealand soon.  Fentanyl has been found as an adulterant in a wide range of substances used recreationally in other countries, and the risk of contamination of the New Zealand illicit market is high, therefore our advice is to always test a substance before using it.

To see the updated results for the 2016/2017 season, go to Our Results or click the picture above.  For further information, to volunteer, or to book KnowYourStuffNZ for an event, please contact us.

KnowYourStuffNZ carries out drug checking at events in conjunction with New Zealand Drug Foundation, who own the FT-IR spectrometer we use.

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