Crowd at a music festival
The drug checking team will be back doing the rounds at music festivals this summer, practicing harm reduction and trying to save lives.
Last summer, Know Your Stuff NZ and The Drug Foundation checked more than 300 drug samples at music festivals across New Zealand. Twenty percent were not what people thought.
Policy and Information Officer Samuel Andrews says this harm reduction service is more important than ever, given the rise of increasingly unpredictable and unknown synthetic psychoactive substances.
This year, volunteers are expecting to check at least as many samples again. They expect to find more cathinones (also known as ‘bathsalts’), as well as potential contamination with synthetic cannabinoids. There is also the risk of Fentanyl, a highly potent opioid linked to many deaths overseas.
All clients of the service prepare their sample by scraping a very small amount of powder from a pill or capsule. This is screened with reagent tests (acids that change colour depending on what drugs are present). These samples are then tested with the FT-IR spectrometer (AKA Alphie) to give a much more accurate analysis. Staff and volunteers talk clients through the process, explaining each step and providing tailored advice on how to be safer based on what the substance is.
Drug harm experts say funding for a nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses is critical in the face of an increasingly toxic drug supply and the emergence of powerful synthetic opioids.
Survey participants also reported that barriers to accessing services, resources and information were high.
A group of powerful synthetic opioids that were first detected in the country just a year ago may have already been linked to several deaths.