KnowYourStuffNZ provides drug related harm reduction services at events and clinics 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
- Summer events bounced back from the COVID 19 pandemic and our service continued to grow rapidly, reflecting public support for drug checking and the growing awareness of our service across Aotearoa.
- We expanded our reach to several more regional centres, including in the Whanganui and Waikato regions, and are seeing slightly different drug trends due to this.
- MDMA remains our clients’ most commonly used drug by far.
- This year, 85% of substances tested were consistent with what they were presumed to be (up from 78% in 2021-22). In particular, samples presumed to be MDMA were more likely to be MDMA than in previous years (89%, which is similar to NZ Drug Foundation’s finding of 82% in their April report).
- Drug checking continues to be effective at reducing the risks from harmful drugs by changing people’s behaviour – over 50% of people said they would not take their substances after it proved not to be what they thought it was.
- KnowYourStuffNZ’s drug checking results differ slightly from those of the NZ Drug Foundation and the NZ Needle Exchange Programme as we each serve different groups of people who use drugs and may analyse our results in slightly different ways.
KnowYourstuffNZ activity 2022-23
This season’s data covers the period from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023. KnowYourStuffNZ was at 104 events during this period and tested a total of 3800 samples. This includes all samples from both our event/festival services, and our services in community-based clinics.
We have tested the following numbers of samples across all years since 2016:
What drugs did people think they had?
The substance most commonly brought to us was presumed to be MDMA. Dissociatives were second, being primarily ketamine, while indoles such as LSD and psilocybin/mushrooms were the third most common. This has stayed relatively consistent across previous years.
We tested significantly more cocaine this year than last (160 samples vs. 20 samples in 2021-22).
Please note that some substances used at events are not commonly brought in for testing, including cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, alcohol, and GHB/GBL. There are various reasons why we don’t see some substances but this may include the lack of suitable field equipment available, as is the case for testing cannabis.
How often were substances what people thought they were?
86% of the substances tested consistently with what clients thought they were. This is higher than last year, at 78%, and similar to the 2018-2020 period:
9% of samples gave results that were not consistent with what clients thought they had.
3% gave results that were partially consistent. These samples usually contained the presumed psychoactive plus other substances (additional psychoactives, impurities, or non-psychoactive fillers). 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 3% of samples (which is similar to previous years).
What did people actually have?What we found in our testing
The most common substance found was MDMA, which represented more than half of substances. The next most common were dissociatives (usually ketamine) and indoles (usually LSD).
Cathinones represented 3% of the substances found. This is a significant drop in the amount of cathinones from 9% in 2021-22 and 20% in 2020-21. Eutylone remains the most commonly found cathinone.
High dose MDMA pills
This season we found 86 pressed pills that we estimated to contain 2 or more doses of MDMA (at least 150mg). These pills made up 3.7% of the MDMA that we found.
Last year we found 19 high-dose MDMA pills, which was 2% of the MDMA that we tested. Therefore there is a slight increase in the rate of high-dose pills, but the main increase is due to the higher number of samples we tested this year.
Many high-weight MDMA pills contained fillers or additional psychoactives, such as caffeine and ketamine.
Note: our method of quantifying purity and doses in pills has a high degree of uncertainty.
Non-MDMA high weight pills
Several of the high-dose pills with no detectable MDMA in them had dangerous doses of other substances. These included eutylone and dimethylpentylone (with several pills over 400mg in weight), and several pills with high doses of ketamine.
How did checking influence people’s decisions?
58.9% of clients said that they would not take a substance when it was not what they thought it was (compared to 27.3% that said they would take it and 13.8% that said they might).
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.
These sample sizes are small and should be treated as indicative only. We found that:
- 50% (30 people) said that they intended to take it because they considered the substance to be desirable. Most of these were cases where testing showed that the substance was MDMA or ketamine.
- 32% (19 people) said that they intended to take it because they had consumed it before without problems.
- The remaining 18% (11 people) gave other reasons, including losing money spent on the substance, curiosity, and willingness to try after receiving information about the substance and harm reduction advice.
People find different substances more desirable than others when they are found in place of a presumed substance. In the chart below we collated our results for samples that were not as presumed across all years of operation (to give us larger numbers to work with).
It is worth noting that people’s intention to take or not take a substance is highly dependent on the type of substance found during testing. In this case, 70% of people won’t take substances that turn out to be cathinones.
Broadly speaking, the more high-risk the class of substance, the higher number of people state that they will not take the substance.
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 most relevant harm reduction advice.
64% of clients said that they intended to take their substance orally or sublingually (under the tongue).
23% said that they intended to snort it (intranasal).
13% 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).
We advise clients that oral/sublingual is the safest route of administration for MDMA. Other substances, such as ketamine and cocaine are most commonly snorted and the data reflects this. These results are consistent across years.
Are we seeing changes over time in the proportion of substances that are what people thought they were?
This season’s proportion of substances that tested as presumed (86%) is higher than the previous two seasons, and similar to the 2018-19 and 2019-20 testing years. These were followed by a low of 69% in 2020-21 when we saw widespread substitution of cathinones for MDMA.
Change over time in the proportion of MD, Dissociative, and Indole samples that were what they were thought to be
The proportion of MDMA that was actually MDMA has fluctuated over time.
Both indole (such as LSD and psilocybin/mushrooms) and dissociative (such as ketamine) type substances have remained fairly stable across the past five years, with dissociatives ranging between 83% and 93% (this years result) and indoles between 84% and 93% (this years result at 91%) as presumed.
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.
Are we seeing changes over time in the substances that people have?
MDMA-family substances remain the most commonly brought to us for testing. We have observed a small but steady increase in the number of dissociatives brought for testing, a slow but steady decrease in the amount of indoles brought for testing, and an increase in samples of cocaine this year.
First detections and interesting data points:
This year we detected a number of substances for the first time. We point out some of those which we know to be of interest domestically and internationally:
Ketamine analogues (2-fluorodeschloroketamine(2-FDCK); Fluorexetamine(FXE); deschloro-N-ethyl-Ketamine(2-Oxo-PCE))
In many cases these substances are causing major harm events overseas. These are yet to be regularly present in our test results.
Change over time in whether people say they will take a substance when it’s not what they thought
The amount of people saying they will not take or might take a substance when it’s not as presumed is on-par with the results for last season. The largest number of people saying they would not take the substance was in 2020-21 when there was a large amount of eutylone on the market.
The last few years have appeared to have slightly fewer dangerous adulterants which may reflect the increase in people reporting they will take the substance. However these sample numbers are too small to draw any definitive conclusions on.
When someone’s substance is ‘not as presumed’, it falls into 3 different categories:
- It has been substituted for or mixed with something unexpected but desirable (e.g ketamine substituted for MDMA)
- It has been substituted for or mixed with something unexpected and undesirable or harmful (e.g MDMA mixed with eutylone)
- It has been substituted for or mixed with something unexpected and relatively low risk (e.g creatine substituted for MDMA )
Because of these reasons it can be hard to definitely correlate an increase in taking a substance when it’s not as presumed to be an increase in the risk of drug harm or risky behaviour. It is recommended that any conclusions drawn from this are treated as indicative only, with the caveat that KYSNZ doesn’t test a large enough percentage of the total drug market to indicate whether this is a society-wide trend.