Kiwis are taking dangerous new varieties of drugs, with many being unaware they are doing so.
Tests conducted by volunteers at festivals and other events last summer found about 30 per cent of the drugs taken by those who offered samples did not contain what their users thought they did.
Instead many contained new varieties of drugs called cathinones, which mimic the effects of better-known drugs, but are much more harmful.
There was very little information about them, and the risk of overdose was high, said Wendy Allison, director of KnowYourStuffNZ, a community organisation of volunteers operating in collaboration with the New Zealand Drug Foundation.
The group found a cathinone called n-ethylpentylone was present at every festival and event where testing was carried out last summer.
“All sorts of things can happen [with cathinones]: anxiety attacks, to heart arhythmia and fits,” she said.
All the event-goers who supplied cathinone samples believed they had been taking ecstasy, Allison said.
Ecstasy was generally considered safe when mixed with alcohol, but cathinones could be fatal if mixed with alcohol or other drugs.
Allison said people generally did not seek out cathinones, because they had heard them referred to as “bath salts” and heard scare stories about them.
Last summer was the first time testers had identified so many cathinones, and in such high quantity, she said.
Event-goers supplied samples of drugs they intended to take, and the tests took five to 10 minutes.
People wanted their drugs tested because they wanted to know what was in them, Allison said. “People know the market has no quality control.
“When they’re here, we talk to them about their drug use, and how much.
“It helps us get in touch with people who are not otherwise likely to talk about their drug use.”
Ross Bell, executive director of the NZ Drug Foundation, which paid for the machine used by the group’s testers, said nothing surprised him any more about what drugs were available in New Zealand.
“Right now, there’s a smorgasbord of different chemicals out there that are designed to mimic old drugs.
“It seems that these chemicals are getting more and more dangerous, and more and more deadly.
“Every day, there’s new chemicals being cooked up, and users don’t know what they’ve got.”
Bell wanted the government to put more money into drug testing initiatives.
The machine used by KnowYourStuffNZ was the only one in the country.
There was also a legal grey area, he said, as festivals could be at risk for allowing drug testing, he said. “They should be encouraged to have this service.”