Summer festival attendees are warned about a growing number of “very dangerous” substitutes at MDMA being tested.
Know Your Stuff has reported in drug-screening clinics over the past few months an increased incidence of what people thought would be pure MDMA, either turning out to be just a catinone or just enough MDMA to “cheat” the test.
Synthetic catinones, also known colloquially as “bath salts”, have a euphoric onset similar to MDMA but wear off more quickly causing people to reduce them, having problems.
But other effects are stronger, and can cause anxiety, paranoia, stomach upset, seizures, or respiratory failure.
Mephedrone, the common cathinone here, has been linked to a number of deaths in the UK and Europe.
The discovery comes after the toxic industrial chemical methylenedianiline was discovered this month and sold at MDMA’s Auckland premises.
Know Your Stuff warns that the chemical has been linked to several cases of poisoning in Auckland where patients suffered liver damage.
Cathinones are a family of stimulants that are often sold as replacements for MDMA.
Know Your Stuff deputy manager, Dr Jez Weston, said it was likely used as MDMA simply because it was available on the black market.
They have found replacements in precise testing across the country, and they’ve seen more than last year, said Weston.
They found catinones in pill and crystal form.
The more common ones found in New Zealand include N-ethyl pentylone, mephedrone and eutylone.
Occasionally methylone, mexedron, 4-methylmethcathinone, MDPV, and Alpha-PVP have also been found.
Cathinones are usually stronger than MDMA, so what people perceive as a manageable amount can be dangerous.
The catinone effects last between two and five hours, but the side effects – including difficulty sleeping – generally stay on your body for between six and 24 hours.
Reducing it will prolong this side effect.
One person who thought they had weak MDMA and took multiple doses experienced what they called “48 hours of hell” of what turned out to be eutylone.
There’s no way to clearly differentiate, and Know Your Stuff recommends that people visit their testing site whenever possible, or buy their own testing reagent.
“Cathinones are very dangerous, and we’d rather see you regularly in a summer screening tent after summer than in a hospital once,” said Weston.
“We will be busy this summer at festivals across the country and hope to be more open and public about what we are doing.”
Pill testing laws
Health Minister Andrew Little’s Drug and Substance Checking Bill was passed earlier this month.
The bill amends two laws – the Drug Abuse Act and the Psychoactive Substances Act to allow people to take drug tests at festivals without charge and allow event organizers to host testers.
The bill will automatically expire in 12 months, with Little committing to bringing in permanent changes that will go through a full parliamentary process before then.
The legal change came too late to allow Know Your Stuff to test our summer festival effectively.
Wendy Allison told RNZ that there wasn’t enough time to import the specialist spectrometer equipment needed to test at all the festivals.
The organization only has three sets of equipment, meaning they can only attend three festivals at once, Allison said.
“There are more events than happened, especially around the New Year period.”
He said there were other spectrometers in New Zealand, but they were hidden in the laboratory.
“The ability to cut all that bureaucracy in the time we have will be very limited.”
The spectrometer was manufactured in Germany, and took six weeks to arrive when the organization ordered it last year.
“That is of course before Covid and not during the holiday season. So I predict, if we order spectrometers tomorrow, they will arrive as early as February.”
Allison did not blame the Government for the delay in the law, instead putting it to outside influences such as Covid-19 and other political parties that opposed last year’s law.
He said the law would help improve the services they could offer, as it allowed volunteers to handle the substance, making it more efficient.
Prior to the law, the group had to instruct festivalgoers to test the drug themselves, fearing that volunteers would risk prosecution if they handled the substance.
“This is not a total wash. We are limited in the number of events we can attend, but we will be able to help more people at the event.”