Another near miss with multiple hospitalisations

At KnowYourStuffNZ we believe that people should not risk death on a night out.

With four people hospitalised after the Listen In Auckland event we’ve had another near-miss. We’re relieved that the people affected are now stable, but this could have been much worse. What scares us is that this is going to keep on happening unless we take an effective approach to reducing the harm from drug use. We’ve been demonstrating that approach for the past five years – if someone can test a substance before taking it then they can avoid the most dangerous drugs. If that person does choose to take a substance after testing, we advise them about how to reduce the risk of doing so. That might mean taking less, waiting before taking more, avoiding mixing with alcohol, knowing  what to expect, and knowing when and how to seek help if they get into difficulty.

We were not at Listen In so we don’t know what the four hospitalised people took, nor do the people themselves, nor do the medics on the front-line of keeping people safe. We are not going to speculate what those people might have taken, but we are concerned for this coming summer about three big risks: people taking too much MDMA, people taking cathinones (“bath salts”), and people taking new and unknown substances.

Let’s clear up some of the misconceptions that we’ve heard in the last few days:

  • KYSNZ always advise that the safest approach is not to take drugs. That’s literally the first thing that we say to our clients.
  • We never describe a substance as “safe”. All drug use has risks. We discuss those risks with our clients. That conversation is informed by our testing.
  • We do not return the substance that we use for testing. The small amount used is destroyed as part of testing.
  • We are not the Government. We are not the Police. We are not funded by tax-payers. We are a volunteer group who run entirely off donations.

You can find out more about our techniques and operations in our FAQ.

Could we have stopped four people going to hospital on Friday night? That’s why we go to events, to reduce the chance of this happening. We know that what we do changes people’s behaviour, reducing the risk of drug-related harm.

We were not at Listen In because, in part, of the legal risk to the organisers. Where we go depends upon the organisers and whether they are willing to take a legal risk to have us at their event. RFA Auckland Stadiums are correct to say that having testing at their events would place them “in a very difficult legal position”.

We want the legal grey area about drug checking to be clarified so that we can help people stay safe at every large event this summer.

We want this law clarification to happen before someone dies.

KnowYourStuffNZ drug checking results for 2018/2019 festival season

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Testing by KnowYourStuffNZ at music festivals this summer reveals that more people than ever before are willing not to take dangerous drugs. When people discovered that their drugs were not what they were expected, 62% of them were willing not to take them.

In partnership with NZ Drug Foundation, KnowYourStuffNZ used FTIR spectroscopy and reagents at thirteen festivals to test 805 samples of illicit drugs brought in voluntarily by users, almost doubling the number of tests we did last year. 

Of those samples, 87% tested as containing the substances that were expected.

Our results showed a continuing trend towards more MDMA, with both more samples being brought to us for testing and more of those samples actually testing as containing MDMA. This summer, 90% of samples brought to us as MDMA actually contained MDMA. We also saw over thirty brightly coloured high-dose pills with a variety of shapes and logos, a risk that KnowYourStuffNZ warned about in March.

Unlike previous years when we saw a range of substitutions, this summer when samples believed to be MDMA were not, they were likely to be n-ethylpentylone. Last summer, we voted it 2018’s crap drug and this summer we saw it at many events. We also saw several samples of caffeine being sold as MDMA.

Just like every summer, we discovered new drugs. Of particular concern was eutylone, a new cathinone that has been responsible for several hospitalisation. We put out a warning in April after seeing it at events from the upper North Island to lower South Island.

For the first time this year, we surveyed our clients to find out more about what kinds of people use our service. The people we reach are young, but not as young as you might assume. Half were under 25, half over 25, and one in 20 were 45 or older. Most people have had no prior experience with drug testing or harm reduction services, showing that KnowYourStuffNZ reaches people that no other services reach. Most worryingly, three-quarters have experienced taking drugs that were not what they were supposed to be, with effects ranging from unpleasant to needing medical help.

Our survey showed that most people taking drugs understand the risks and will take drugs anyway. Our work is also showing that most people will make safer choices if they have access to good information that allows them to make those choices. Drug testing provides that information.

Full results for the 2108/2019 summer can be found here.

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

ALERT: White powder in clear capsules containing unknown cathinone C86

FURTHER UPDATE 1 May: We’ve now identified this as eutylone, a new cathinone. You can find harm reduction advice in our more detailed eutylone post.

UPDATE Saturday 19.00: After more analysis we believe this is not n-ethylpentylone as previously stated. It appears to be an unknown cathinone that we’re calling “C86”. The harm reduction advice remains the same – treat with caution. This substance is so new that we do not know of the health risks.

Original alert: N-ethylpentylone found in powder obtained as MDMA

KnowYourStuffNZ tested pills in Dunedin today and found a particularly dangerous substance called n-ethylpentylone an unknown cathinone that we’re calling “C86”.
Two samples of white powder in clear capsules from different sources were tested and each contained a mixture of n-ethylpentylone and ethylone this single substance. We have seen this substance previously at a summer event in the North Island.

N-ethylpentylone C86 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. Cathinones have 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. We called it “this summer’s crap drug“. We don’t know what C86 is exactly, other than that it’s a cathinone and fairly similar in chemical structure to n-ethylpentylone.

The identified pills are medium sized clear capsules containing a chalky white powder that clumps together.

When tested with Marquis reagent the samples turned orange and with Mandelin they turned dark orange. These colour changes indicate a cathinone.

Testing with the more reliable FT-IR spectroscopy suggests these pills contain a mixture of of n-ethylpentylone and ethylone an unknown cathinone which we are calling C86 that is similar to n-ethylpentylone. The amount of n-ethylpentylone C86 present may vary between pills. Alternatively, this may be a new and unknown cathinone. Yup, it’s a new one alright.

It is possible that These pills have spread throughout New Zealand, being seen by KnowYourStuffNZ from one of the country to the other, therefore any substance that looks similar to this should be treated as dangerous regardless of your location.

N-ethylpentylone has been detected in powders and pills 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. C86 has not, to our knowledge, been seen before and there is no information about safety, dosage, risks, and interactions with other drugs. We recommend avoiding this.
– 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 a cathinone 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.

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.

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.


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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