2020 – 2021 Testing report

KnowYourStuffNZ provides drug related harm reduction services at events around New Zealand, including drug checking. The result of every test is recorded and each year we collate our results across the event season, analysing:

  • what people thought they had,
  • what they actually had, and
  • what decisions they made about taking the substances

KnowYourstuffNZ activity, 2020-21

This season’s data covers the period from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021. KnowYourStuffNZ was at 27 events during this period and tested a total of 2,744 samples.
By comparison, we have tested the following numbers of samples across all years since 2016:

Table showing the number of samples and events we've done testing at by year. This year's total is 2,744 samples at 27 events
Number of samples KnowYourStuffNZ has tested and the number of events attended by year.

In 2020-21, 178 of our samples were tested ‘back of house’. These samples were found or confiscated by event security and we tested them so that we could publish an alert if dangerous substances were found.

People who had possessed these samples before they were confiscated were not present during testing. These samples are therefore excluded from some of the analysis below as we did not have information on what the substance was thought to be.

The remaining 2,566 samples were brought to us by event participants for our ‘front of house’ service.

What drugs did people think they had?

Most people brought in what they thought was MDMA, followed by LSD and ketamine, similar to previous years.

Please note that some substances used at events are not commonly brought in for testing, including cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, alcohol, and GHB/GBL.

Chart of presumed substances. Results as follows: MD family: 69%, Indole family: 10%, Dissociative family: 8%, Unknown: 6%, Cocaine: 3%, Amphetamine: 2%, Cathinone: 1%

How often were substances what people thought they were?

69% of the substances tested consistently with what clients thought they were. This is the lowest since reporting began in 2016.

25% of samples gave results that were not consistent with what clients thought they had.

4% gave results that were partially consistent. These samples usually contained the presumed psychoactive plus other substances (additional psychoactives, impurities, or non-psychoactive pharmaceutical or herbal substances). In a few cases, the client thought they had a mix of two psychoactives, but the sample in fact contained only one.

Testing was inconclusive for the remaining 1% of samples.

Chart showing consistency with presumed substance. Results as follows: Consistent with presumed: 69%, Partially consistent with presumed: 4%, Not consistent with presumed: 25%, testing inconclusive: 1%

What did people actually have?

What we found in our testing

The most common substance was MDMA, which represented about half of the substances tested. The next most common was cathinones (usually eutylone), followed by indoles (usually LSD) and dissociatives (usually ketamine).

There was a sharp increase in the proportion of cathinones that we found this year compared to previous years. This is of particular concern as eutylone has been associated with deaths and hospitalisations.

Mixtures of psychoactive substances were also of concern. Some substances interact to increase the risk of harm, and some of the mixtures contained dangerous substances. Most tended to be MDMA mixed with another substance, especially eutylone (MDMA + eutylone represented over a third of mixed substances).

This mixture is particularly dangerous because in a reagent test only the MDMA will be detected, potentially leading the user to believe they are taking MDMA alone. Eutylone has a different risk profile. Treating a sample with both MDMA and eutylone as just MDMA could lead to a risky dose of eutylone being inadvertently consumed.

Chart showing true identity of substances. Results as follows: MD family: 49%, cathinone family: 20% Indole family: 9%, Dissociative family: 7%, Non-psychoactives/herbal substances: 3%, Mixture: 2%, cocaine: 2%, amphetamine: 1%, other: 1%:

Non-MDMA high weight pills

There were 26 non-MDMA high-dose pills. Of particular concern among these were 3 pills that weighed over 400mg and contained eutylone.

Though they did not contain 100% eutylone, the amount of eutylone that was detected could still be considered dangerous. These were Red Bull pills that we put out alerts including information on these pills.

For more information on pressed pills, please refer to the Know Your Stuff Pill Library: https://knowyourstuff.nz/pill-library/.

High dose MDMA pills

Including confiscated drugs, this season we found 85 pressed pills that we estimated to contain 2 or more doses of MDMA (at least 150mg). These pills made up 6.4% of the MDMA that we found.

This is roughly similar to the 2019-20 season, where high-dose pills made up 5% of the MDMA that was found.

How did testing influence people’s decisions?

68.2% of clients said that they would not take a substance when it was not what they thought it was (compared to 18% that said they would take it and 13.8% that said they might).

Chart showing % of people that decided to take the substance after it has been tested: Where drug was as presumed, 90% said they would still take it, 5% said they might, 5% said they would not. Where the drug was partially consistent with presumed, 70% said they would still take it, 10% said they might take it, and 20% said they would not. Where the drug was not as presumed, 68.2% said they would not take it,19% said they would still take it, and 13% said they might take it.

Why did people choose to take a substance when testing showed it was not what they thought it was?

We asked people why they would take a substance when it wasn’t what they thought it was. Only 40 responses to this question were received, so findings are indicative only. We found that:

  • 62% (25 people) said that they intended to take it because they considered the substance to be desirable.
    • 14 of these were cases where testing showed that the substance was a cathinone (9 eutylone, 3 mephedrone, and 2 methylone).
    • The next highest represented family was the MD family (4 MDA and 2 MDMA)
  • 18% (7 people) said that they intended to take it because they had consumed it before without problems.
  • The remaining 20% (8 people) gave other reasons, including:
    • The desire to experiment or take the substance in small amounts
    • Wanting something to take or nothing else being available
    • Desire to not forfeit the cost sunk into the substance
    • Preference to discuss consumption with their group

Chart showing reasons for taking the drug when not as presumed: 62% of people said that the substance found was desirable, 18% said they'd had the substance before without problems, and 20% gave other reasons

People find different substances more desirable than others when they are found in place of a presumed substance. We collated our results for samples that were not as-presumed across all years of operation (to give us larger numbers to work with).

Most people said they would not take the substance if it tested as

  • a cathinone,
  • NBOMe,
  • psychoactive pharmaceutical/herbal,
  • non-psychoactive substance, or
  • inconclusive

Most people said they would still take the substance if it tested as

  • cocaine,
  • amphetamine,
  • a dissociative,
  • an indole, or
  • MDMA

Chart showing intentions to take substances when they're not as presumed from 2016-2021

How did people intend to take substances?

Different consumption methods are associated with different risks. Clients are asked how they intend to consume a substance so we can provide them with the correct harm reduction advice.

  • 78% of clients said that they intended to take their substance orally or sublingually (under the tongue)
  • 19% said that they intended to snort it
  • 3% said that they were unsure about whether they would take it orally or snort it, or said that they would use other methods (smoking or vaporising the substance, or inserting it rectally)

Chart stating how people intended to take their drugs. 78% said they would take them orally or under their tongue, 19% said they would snort the substance, and 3% said they would use another method.

Chart showing methods of consumption by drug family. MD family: 90% oral, 8% snort, 2% other. Indole family: 95% oral, 5% other. Dissociative family: 5% oral, 88% snort, 2% other. Cocaine: 2% oral, 98% snort, 1% other

There are clear differences between drugs. Most people intending to take MDMA or LSD will take it orally or sublingually. Most people intending to use ketamine or cocaine will snort it. These results are consistent with those from last year.

Are we seeing changes over time in the proportion of substances that are what people thought they were?

This season’s proportion is the lowest proportion to date (68%). This is a sharp decline from the previous two seasons (87% and 86%). In previous years there was a steady increase in proportion.

Chart showing consistency with presumed content year by year between 2016 and 2021

Change over time in the proportion of MD Family and Indole samples that were what they were thought to be

MD family (mostly MDMA)

Between 2016-17 and 2019-20, there was an increase in the proportion of presumed MDMA that was actually MDMA, from 63% to 90%. In 2020-21 the proportion sharply decreased to 66%.

Before this season, MDMA was more likely than most other substances to be as-presumed. 2020-21 saw this proportion was lower than that of dissociatives and indoles, which remained similar to previous seasons at 90%.

Note that the decrease in the proportion of MDMA that was ‘partially consistent with presumed’ probably results from improvements to our testing method between 2016/17 and 2017/18.

Indole family (mostly LSD)

For LSD and other indoles, 90% of samples brought to us this year were what they were supposed to be. This is an increase from 84% in 2019-20. This increase mostly relates to the non-LSD substances in this family.

91% of the presumed LSD tested consistently with LSD (similar to last year at 90%), while 78% of the substances that were presumed to be other indoles tested consistently with what they were supposed to be. This is higher than last year which was only at 56%.

Dissociative family (mostly ketamine)

We have seen an increase over time in the proportion of dissociatives that test consistently with what they are supposed to be. This proportion remained about the same this year (90%) compared to last year at 91%.

This result should be viewed with caution as the number of dissociatives tested in earlier years was low.
Note that the decrease in the proportion of MDMA that was ‘partially consistent with presumed’ probably results from improvements to our testing method between 2016/17 and 2017/18.

Chart showing consistency with presumed by family by year

Are we seeing changes over time in the substances that people have?

This year we saw significantly more cathinones and fewer MDMA samples than in previous years.
The proportion of indoles slightly decreased, while the other drug families remained relatively the same.

Line plot of change in actual substances over time

Change over time in whether people say they will take a substance when it’s not what they thought

More people said this year that they wouldn’t take a substance if it wasn’t as presumed than any other year since reporting began in 2016.

This is accompanied by a significantly higher number of samples not being as presumed.

Possible reasons for this are the increased amount of eutylone tested, accompanied by several warnings to the public about the dangers of eutylone and other cathinones.

Overall, we are seeing a slight increase over time in people not taking a substance if not as presumed, with the exception of the 2019-20 season.

People appear to be making less risky choices relative to what substance they end up having. A rise in dangerous substances is accompanied by a rise in people not taking a substance when it isn’t as presumed.

Chart showing intention to consume when substance not as presumed between 2016 and 2021 showing increase in people choosing not to take the substance in 2021

Further information

You can explore the results further in a downloadable spreadsheet of our results KYSNZ_data_2019-20 (.xlxsx, 105KB)

This report was compiled by Katie Double.

The smell of an oily rag that KnowYourStuffNZ runs on is made of donations. Please donate to help us continue helping people make better choices about their drugs.

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