Drug-testing results are in and the last season of MDMA sold appears to be more real and uncontaminated than NZ has seen in a while. But 20 percent of drugs still aren't what users thought they were taking.
The final results of a summer’s worth of testing are in from Know Your Stuff NZ, an independent drug-testing organisation who are on-site at much of the summer’s festival circuit.
The organisation was at seven festivals over the 2017/18 season, and tested 445 samples of illicit drugs brought in by punters. Overall, they found the percentage of samples ‘as presumed’ - as in, people actually who actually had the drugs they thought they had - increased from 68 percent to 79 percent.
That was mostly driven by more MDMA tested, and more of the drugs sold as MDMA being legit. KnowYourStuffNZ Director Wendy Allison said in a release that this season nearly 60 percent of samples brought in for testing were presumed to be MDMA. Of those, the portion that was actually MDMA increased from 63 percent to 83 percent.
“We have seen more MDMA, and more of it has been real,” said Allison in the release - but warned that didn’t mean the drugs were ‘safe’ as such. “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.”
In March this year, KnowYourStuffNZ detected deadly opiate Fentanyl cut with drugs at an NZ festival. It marked the first time Fentanyl has been identified as a contaminant in New Zealand’s illicit drug market. Fentanyl is an opioid roughly 50 times stronger and more toxic than heroin, and has been responsible for thousands of overdose deaths across the United States.
Also of concern is N-ethylpentylone, a new contaminant that became big in the NZ illicit drug market this year. Earlier this year, VICE reported on 13 hospitalisations due to the ‘cracky’ party drug, sold as MDMA in Christchurch. Physical effects can include raised pulse and blood pressure, high body temperature, convulsions, acidosis, and rapid muscle breakdown. Psychological effects include agitation, paranoia, compulsion to re-dose, difficulty sleeping for up to 36 hours, and temporary psychosis. Allison said at the time they have found the drug at every festival they tested at in 2017, and every event so far in 2018.
But, as VICE has previously written, KnowYourStuffNZ and any other drug-testing agencies in New Zealand currently operate in a legal grey area. “It’s not explicitly illegal to do what we do. It’s also not explicitly legal,” Allison said—“But there are a whole bunch of things around the practice that are illegal - such as possession of illicit substances.”
Events that allow testing agencies are also at risk, as in New Zealand it’s an offence to knowingly permit a venue to be used for drug offences. So the current practice relies on police discretion, and venues sticking their necks out. “In our view, that’s not good enough, and the law needs to be updated to basically get with the times. Things are a lot more dangerous now than they were in 1975 when the Act was created.”
The Misuse of Drugs Act was slated for review this term by the previous National government—and it’s not yet known if or when Labour will bring it for review.
In terms of other shifts in the results of Know Your Stuff's testing? Looks like there is still very little cocaine floating around at festivals - the organisation found less than 1 percent samples of legit cocaine, despite 3 percent of people thinking they'd bought it. There was also less LSD - 17 percent of samples tested were thought to be LSD, and 15 percent actually were. That's compared to 30 percent assumed and 26 percent actual last year. There were also a number of new synthetic drugs, and 20 totally new substances detected for the first time this summer. Those include: 4-methylamphetamine, dextroamphetamine, methylamphetamine, 1p LSD, 5-MEO-DIPT, ethylphenidate, 4-chloroethcathinone, 4-methylpentedrone, 4-methylbuphedrone, alpha-PVP, DMBDB, n-ethylbuphedrone, unknown cathinone, unknown NBOMe, 5-HTP, rauwolfia serpentina, benzocaine, acetophenetidin, quinidide gluconate, and fentanyl.