Drug tests at festivals find dangerous new varieties posing as well-known pills

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.”

 – Stuff

‘Drunk’ American Airlines pilot stopped in front of stunned passengers

American Airlines cancelled a flight from Detroit to Philadelphia after a co-pilot was suspected of being intoxicated.

The pilot, who hasn’t been named, allegedly tested above the legal limit for blood alcohol content, according to a statement issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Officials had reported his behaviour.

The pilot was detained at a security checkpoint at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in suburban Romulus, Michigan.

“Flight 736 was cancelled and we are re-accommodating our customers on other flights,” American Airlines spokeswoman Laura Nedbal said.

“This is a serious matter and we are assisting local law enforcement and the Federal Aviation Administration with the investigation.”

She declined to say what range of penalties a pilot could face if found to be unfit for flight due to intoxication.

Several college students who were on spring break tweeted about the incident, which left them stranded at the airport.

FAA rules concerning pilots and alcohol are stricter than those enforced for motorists.

The agency prohibits pilots from flying while under the influence of alcohol, specifically when their blood alcohol content is 0.04 percent or higher, or within eight hours of consuming any alcoholic beverages.

The American pilot allegedly tested above the 0.04-percent level.

The pilot was scheduled to fly on an Embraer E-190 – smaller than an aircraft such as a Boeing 737 but larger than a typical regional jet.


 – Bloomberg

Drunk, medicated Harley rider caused teen passenger’s death on Wellington motorway: coroner

A motorcycling photographer was drunk and heavily medicated when he caused a teenage girl’s death on Wellington’s motorway, a coroner has found.

Dee McMahon, 49, and Natalia Austin, 18, died after the Harley-Davidson he was riding hit the median barrier near the Terrace Tunnel on June 28 last year.

A report by coroner Christopher Devonport has revealed McMahon, whose partner was Austin’s boyfriend’s mother, was drunk and travelling at speeds of up to 140kmh.

He was nearly five times over the legal alcohol limit, which meant he would have drunk up to 42 standard drinks the day before the crash, the inquiry into Austin’s death found.

McMahon had been to drinks the night before. The next day, a Sunday, he got up and took Austin for a spin on the bike.

His partner, Monique Elston, recalled giving Austin motorcycle gloves, boots, jacket and a helmet to wear, and instructing her how to sit on the back of the motorbike and “lean with the machine”.

Just after midday, McMahon sped through the Terrace Tunnel about 120kmh, CCTV footage showed. He lost control of the bike 400 metres north of the tunnel, and hit the median barrier about 140kmh, scraping along it.

Witnesses reported seeing first McMahon come off and land in the southbound lanes, and then Austin land on the road in front of traffic in the northbound lanes.

Both died at the scene.

The toxicology report found McMahon had a cocktail of prescription drugs in his system, including morphine and tramadol, which should not have been mixed with alcohol.

Natalia’s father Tony Austin, who has received a copy of the coroner’s report, said the family wanted to focus on her life, rather than on how she died.

“We’re trying to go forward and cherish the memory of a beautiful girl who had a bright future, and who was just too innocent and trusting.”

The coroner’s findings had worsened their grief, he said.

“You let your little girl go and you hope she’s going to be looked after by adults. She trusted them, and they’ve let her down miserably.”

He hoped the findings might save another youngster.

“If anything’s to come out of this it’s that, just because people are adults and parents and homeowners, it doesn’t mean you can trust them completely. You’ve got to use your own judgment as a teenager.

“Just be vigilant, and trust your instincts, and if it doesn’t feel right, don’t get in that car or on that bike.

“Even if you think it may seem disrespectful, if you think they’ve been drinking or whatever, say no.”

McMahon’s close friend Peter Stobbart said it was a shock to all of his friends to get the news of the coroner’s report.

“Regardless of the coroner’s findings, it was always the worst possible ending to any story and we all feel devastated for the loss of both families, but particularly the Austins.

“It’s unfortunate such an outstanding friend, and a person who has given so much to so many people, will be remembered for this final act.

“But it won’t make us love him any less, and we miss him dearly.”

Dylan McMahon, Dee’s son, was still “devastated and still struggling with the loss of his dad”, his mother Carlene Paroli said.

“We’re all really shocked to get the coroner’s report. We’re all disappointed, there’s nothing we can do to change that.

“He made a mistake and chose to do something really silly and it cost him his life, and that poor young girl’s life.

“We feel devastated for her family, it’s just horrific.”

 – Stuff


Harness driver Blair Orange fined and suspended for positive breath test

Prominent harness driver Blair Orange has been fined $1050 and suspended from race driving for five meetings after failing a raceday breath test at the Central Otago trots on Saturday.

Orange had pleaded guilty to presenting himself to drive at the races with excessive alcohol in his system.

The penalty was delivered at Roxburgh on Monday by the Judicial Control Authority representatives, Paul Knowles (chairman) and Geoff Hall.

Orange returned a level of 334 micrograms of alcohol when he was tested by a racecourse inspector 45 minutes before he was due to drive in the third race at Omakau.

The level permitted for a reinsman is 100mcg.

He was automatically barred from race driving for the day.

Barry Kitto, the racecourse investigator who laid the charge against Orange, sought a suspension  of up to five weeks or a suspension and a fine.

The maximum penalty for the offence is a fine not exceeding $10,000 or a maximum suspension of 12 months.

Orange is the first harness reinsman charged after a breach of the rule.

He admitted the charge. He said he had been previously been tested and never failed.

He said he was not a regular drinker but had been drinking to 2am on Saturday morning.

He travelled to the meeting as a passenger in a car.

The breath alcohol limit for a vehicle driver is 250mcg.

Orange told that judiciary he had never been suspended in  his career as a reinsman which has yielded 1100  wins.

He said he needed to drive in races to support his family.

His suspension covers five race meetings between January 7 and 14.

It equates to 56 drives and takes into account that Orange was barred from driving at the Central Otago meeting on Saturday.

Racing Integrity Unit general manager Mike Godber said: “It’s in line with other penalties for this offence and [missing] 56 drives is a reasonable financial penalty.”

“It’s more a lesson learned as much as the money [fine] and time out.”

New Zealand Harness Racing Trainers and Drivers’ Association chairman Rob Lawson said: “It sounds a fair decision.

“People make mistakes and I’m sure Blair and other horsemen will learn from it.”

Orange’s penalty begins at the conclusion of the Wyndham meeting at Cromwell on Thursday and ends at midnight on January 14.

The JCA representatives  took into account penalties imposed on jockeys Terry Moseley, in 2009, and Ryan Bishop, in 2013, for similar offences and the need for consistency between the codes.

Bishop was suspended for 14 race meetings over five weeks in 2013 when his reading was 512mcg. He had been stood down at Riverton in 2008.  Moseley was suspended for nine riding days over a month when his reading was 214mcg at Riverton in 2009.

Orange was allowed to drive at Roxburgh on Monday and had success, winning with Celestial Arden and finishing a close second with Alvira Hest.

 – Stuff

Report: A third of marijuana smokers drive under the influence

More than a third of cannabis smokers have admitted driving while high, sparking calls for random roadside saliva testing.

A report surveying cannabis consumption, published by the Ministry of Health,  shows about one in 10 Kiwis say they have smoked marijuana in the past year. Of these, 37 per cent admitted driving stoned .

Men were most likely to drive high, with half of those between 35 and 44 reporting getting behind the wheel after a smoke.

The results come as the Government considers tougher enforcement of drug-driving laws, including introducing saliva testing, which is used in some Australian states.

Police have been testing for drug-driving since law changes in 2009, but critics say drivers need to be “off their face” before they are picked up.

Only a few hundred drug-driving “impairment” tests are carried out each year, compared with about three million alcohol breath tests. The drug tests consist of physical checks such as pupil dilution and balance.

Automobile Association spokesman Dylan Thomsen said drugs, particularly cannabis, were a “silent killer” on the roads but “hardly anything” was being done to tackle the problem.

“There are a lot more crashes involving cannabis that we realise.”

There was widespread underestimation of the dangers of driving stoned, he said. Roughly one in 100 people tested for drink-driving were impaired, but the figure would be far higher for cannabis, if it was tested for more regularly and thoroughly.

“The tests are hardy used at all. It is only really used if someone is clearly off their face and the alcohol test has been negative.”

Thomsen believed New Zealand should introduce saliva-based roadside drug testing.

Drug Foundation chief executive Ross Bell said many New Zealanders has bought into a “mythology” that driving high was safe, because they often drove more slowly. “Back in the 60s or 70s, people used to say they drove better drunk. It’s that same argument.”

But studies had shown stoned drivers were slower to react to hazards, and nearly twice as likely to be involved in crashes than an unimpaired driver.

An Environmental Science and Research report in 2011 found one in four of all drivers killed in road crashes had cannabis in their system, although it was not necessarily the cause of the crash.

Bell said there needed to be a big culture shift away from drug-driving. But he did not support saliva tests, which were expensive, slow and sometimes inaccurate. Instead he supported more police training for the current “impairment test”.

Inspector Pete Baird, road policing operation services manager, said the law allowed police to test drivers for drugs only when there was “good cause” for suspicion, as opposed to alcohol testing, which could carried out on any driver. Testing for drugs was also slower, while an alcohol breath test was instant.

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss said the Ministry of Transport was reviewing how drug-driving laws were enforced, which would include looking at  the extent of the problem and whether saliva tests could work.

“The Government takes drug-driving extremely seriously.  The review team is due to report back to ministers in July.”

The New Zealand Transport Agency has recently run television advertising campaigns targeting stoned drivers in an effort to change attitudes, but agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt said it was a long-haul aim and, as a group,drug-drivers were difficult to reach.

“Driving under the influence of drugs is common and widespread, but it is a complex issue. Unlike drink-driving, safe limits cannot be easily established and it is difficult to enforce.”


Read More:

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High Life

  • 42 per of adults have smoked cannabis, 11 per cent in the past year and about 4 per cent at least once a week.
  • 36 per cent of those people have driven while high in the past year
  • 42 per cent said they smoked for “medicinal purposes”
  • 2 per cent had experienced legal hassles linked to their habit
  • 8 per cent said cannabis had negatively affected their mental health
  • 6 per cent said cannabis had negatively affected their work, study or employment opportunities.

Source: The New Zealand Health Survey, Cannabis Use 2012-13

Too stoned to drive?

It is illegal to drive impaired by drugs, including many legal prescription drugs. When police have “good cause to suspect” a driver is on drugs, they can carry out a impairment test. This includes:

  • Checking your eyes for signs of drug use, such as unusual reaction to light, pupil size and irregular movements.
  • Getting you to walk and turn around.
  • Getting you to balance on one leg.

If you fail the impairment test, police will conduct a blood test, which will reveal any drugs in your system and could lead to charges.

Penalties for drivers aged 20 years and over

What happens to me if I’m caught over the new limits?
If a breath screening test shows you have more than 250mcg of alcohol per litre of breath, you will be asked to take an evidential breath test (EBT), usually in a booze bus or at a police station.

If this confirms you are over 250mcg, you will  likely be forbidden to drive for up to 12 hours. You will need to arrange a lift or have someone come and drive your car.

What are the penalties for drivers aged 20 years and over?





For drivers under 20, or those with an alcohol interlock licence or a zero alcohol licence, the limit stays at zero and the penalties remain unchanged.These penalties apply to drivers aged 20 and over.

Teen’s death ‘highlights alcohol danger, easy access’

The family of a Timaru teen who died at a party is struggling with the fact their daughter is never coming home.

Bayli Elliot, 18, died in the early hours of Monday morning at a Timaru address after drinking with friends.

“The sudden loss of a friend or loved one is never easy, but to know that your daughter is never coming home is really, really hard to comprehend,” members of her family said in a statement released via the police.

“On behalf of our family, we would like to thank those close to us, Victim Support and the police for their help and support.”

The family has asked for privacy.

Timaru police are awaiting the results of an autopsy and have not commented on the cause of her death, which will be referred to the coroner.

» Teen’s death sparks drinking warning

Friends who were with her in her final hours gathered on Tuesday night to try to make sense of her sudden death.

With members of the community reeling, Youth Alley youth worker Kirsty Henderson said it was still too early for people to comprehend everything that had happened.

It was a sad situation but highlighted how dangerous alcohol was, she said.

“Alcohol is a really dangerous drug and the fact it’s so accessible is a concern.”

Bayli, 18, died after drinking alcohol with about eight friends.

It is understood she was comatose, but it is not known for how long before an ambulance was called.

The situation was a reflection of the drinking culture in New Zealand, Henderson said.

Leaving the legal drinking age at 18 and ensuring accessibility to a drug that is abused by Kiwis every weekend was a failure of the Government, she said.

“The Government missed an opportunity to make a difference with the Alcohol Reform Bill last year.”

» Teen drinking law ‘poorly implemented’

Bayli was like many her age – active on social media, engaged in her high school and extracurricular activities, and had a wide group of friends and family.

Her principal, Mark Jones, said she was excited to be planning her future as she neared the end of year 13.

He described her as “one of the students that pulled groups together”.

Henderson noted that what happened to Bayli could happen to anyone. Alcohol was not a discerning drug, she said.

– The Timaru Herald

Air NZ quiet on drunk crew claims

Air New Zealand says it has no comment to make on claims that some air crew were drunk during a prolonged stay in Honolulu which saw 223 passengers stranded for three days.

The airline is investigating pilots and other crew members as part of its inquiry into the failure of flight NZ9 to take off for Auckland on Sunday.

There were two Air NZ Boeing 767 crews in Honolulu during the delays and there have been anonymous claims some crew members were drinking as late as 5am and were ‘‘trashed’’, the New Zealand Herald reported.

It understood they would been unfit for duty at one stage even if their plane had been airworthy.

In an internal letter leaked to the newspaper, managers at Air NZ were disappointed with the quality of behaviour of staff.

‘‘I’m sure many of you share our embarrassment at the way the actions of some of our peers have impacted on the reputation of our professions both with our customers and within Air New Zealand,’’ Leeanne Langridge and Darin Stringer said in the letter.

When asked to confirm the allegations, Air NZ spokeswoman Marie Hosking said the delays with the flight were related to ongoing engineering issues.

The airline has launched an internal review of the delay and their management of the situation – both from customer and operational perspectives.

‘‘This review includes the performance of all functions involved with the disruption, including pilots and cabin crew,’’ she said.

The debacle for passengers began when an on-board system indicated there was a fault with an engine. However, there was no fault and a new part was required for the safety system.

An initial replacement, sourced from the US, failed to resolve the issue and another had to be sent from Auckland.

In the meantime, passengers were ferried back and forth between the airport and a hotel. Elderly passengers and families travelling with children were especially affected as the group was made to wait for hours in an area without air conditioning.

Earlier this week Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon told staff he was personally overseeing the review.

‘‘Events like our management of NZ9 have a big impact on our reputation and the trust customers place in us, ‘‘ Luxon said. ‘‘Put simply, we failed more than 200 customers, and as chief executive officer, I am ultimately accountable for this.’’

Hosking said the preliminary outcome of the review was due by the end of next week.

Drink-drive limits lowered

Drink drive limits will be lowered from December, after new legislation was passed through Parliament last night.

From December 1, the alcohol limit will lower from 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath, to 250mcg for drivers over 20.

The blood alcohol limit will reduce from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of blood, to 50mg.

A zero alcohol tolerance for drivers under 20 was introduced in 2011.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said the law change sent a “clear signal that consuming alcohol at high levels and then driving is unacceptable”.

“Changes delivered by this legislation will save lives and reduce injuries, and they demonstrate the government’s commitment to improving road safety,” he said.

The legislation also creates a new offence for drivers with a breath alcohol level between 251-400mcg.
Offenders with a breath alcohol level within that lower range would receive an infringement fee of $200 and 50 demerit points.

Drivers who refused or failed to undergo to a breath test, would be fined $700 as well as handed 50 demerit points.

Anyone who accumulated 100 or more demerit points from driving offences within two years, would see their licence suspended for three months.

The law change comes after a a two-year review of the impact of lowering the legal blood alcohol limit by 30 milligrams suggested that each year 3.4 lives would be saved and 64 injury-causing crashes would be avoided.

It would save $200 million in social costs over 10 years, Brownlee has said in the past.

Data collected by Police over the past 22 months showed 53 drivers were involved in fatal and serious injury crashes with blood alcohol readings of between 51 and 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.

The Government announced the law change after Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway’s bill to do the same was drawn from the ballot in October last year.

Police detainees surveyed on drug use

People arrested by police are likely to have drunk more and more likely to be methamphetamine-users than three years ago, a new report says.

The latest New Zealand Arrestee Drug Use Monitoring Programme Report (NZ-ADUM) found the percentage of people who had been drinking prior to their arrest had not changed from 41 per cent since 2010, but the amount they had drunk had increased.

The average number of drinks detainees claimed they had consumed increased from 12 in 2010 to 17 in 2013.

“For a number of years police have viewed alcohol and drugs as a driver of crime,” Assistant Police Commissioner Malcolm Burgess said.

“The results of this survey are further proof of that.”

More than 75 per cent of the detainees attributed their substance-use problems to alcohol.

Detainees in the 2013 study were also twice as likely to have used methamphetamine prior to being arrested – 6 per cent in 2013 compared with 3 per cent in 2010.

The study showed 30 per cent of the detainees had used methamphetamine in the last 12 months in 2013, compared to 0.9 per cent of the general adult population.

People arrested in Auckland were more likely to have used methamphetamine in the past year (38 per cent) than those in Christchurch central (25 per cent), and Whangarei (25 per cent).

“Police believe there is a close relationship between methamphetamine use and anti-social behaviour and unfortunately this problem has not gone away,” Burgess said.

He said the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act which came into effect in December would help police reduce alcohol-fuelled crime, but the community also needed to play its part by addressing its drinking habit.

The annual Massey University study was funded by the police.

As part of last year’s study, 848 detainees were interviewed at police stations in Whangarei, Auckland central, Wellington central, and Christchurch central.

Overview of drug use patterns of police detainees:

Alcohol: 90 per cent of the detainees had consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months. This figure had remained unchanged from previous years. The number of people who reported driving under the influence of alcohol had declined from 24 per cent in 2010 to 19 per cent in 2013.

Methamphetamine: Thirty per cent of the detainees had used methamphetamine in the previous 12 months, compared to only 0.9 per cent of the general adult population. People arrested in Auckland were more likely to have used methamphetamine in the past year (38 per cent) than those in Christchurch central (25 per cent), and Whangarei (25 per cent).

Cannabis: There was a “surprising decline” in the use, dependency, harm, and availability of cannabis in 2013 compared to previous years, the report said. It was thought this could reflect the emergence of “legal highs”. The proportion of detainees who had used cannabis in the previous year declined from 76 per cent in 2011 to 70 per cent in 2013.

Legal highs: In 2013 the study for the first time asked detainees a range of questions about their use of legal highs, such as synthetic cannabinoids, party pills, and salvia divinorum (a psychoactive plant). Synthetic cannabinoids were “by far” the most widely used legal high, the study found, with almost half of detainees having used them in the past year.

Ecstasy: According to the report, the market for ecstasy in New Zealand is “in turmoil” as a result of the global shortage of MDMA (the traditional active ingredient in ecstasy). The proportion of detainees who had used ecstasy in the previous year decreased from 28 per cent in 2011 to 21 per cent in 2013. Only one per cent had been using it prior to being arrested.

– Stuff