Each year, it feels like there are new announcements about dangerous drugs disguised as other – still illegal but commonly taken or sold – party favourites.
2020 was dubbed the summer of cathinones by Know Your Stuff NZ [KYSNZ] after half the drugs tested at New Year’s festivals – thought to be MDMA – turned out to contain bath salts.
The substance most prevalent at that time was ethylene, which can trigger an inability to sleep, anxiety, headaches, stomach upsets, paranoia and even seizures.
This week, testing clinics are identifying an Alpha-PVP-like substance in preliminary tests of a substance initially thought to be MDMA.
Alpha-PVP is – according to the NZ Drug Foundation – one of several recreational drugs in the bath salts family, which can wreak havoc on the mind and body if taken in excess, easy to do due to its tendency to ‘come on’ slowly.
KYSNZ deputy manager Dez Weston told RNZ that it could cause possible psychosis and erratic behaviour.
“It’s definitely caused deaths overseas, especially if it’s combined with alcohol or other drugs.”
With many of New Zealand’s population on holiday and gearing up for a hot summer festival season, it’s never been so critical that drug testing is available.
There’s a voice at the back of my head parroting the age-old argument that there would be no need for drug testing if people weren’t taking illegal drugs, simple as that.
But the thing is, people have always dabbled in illegal substances, and the presence of safe, accessible testing sites won’t compound that.
There is no evidence saying that the Misuse of Drugs Act – established in 1975 – has deterred people from taking drugs by criminalising them.
Featherston’s Wendy Allison founded KYSNZ in 2014 and worked tirelessly to collect evidence that legal drug-checking services would lessen drug harm, not encourage usage.
KYSNZ operated under a ‘legal grey area’ to reduce drug harm by testing substances for consumers until 2021, when New Zealand became the first country globally to legalise drug testing permanently.
The amendment to the law initially seemed like a paradoxical setup, considering it was still illegal to possess the drugs being tested.
This initially had partygoers worried that they’d be ambushed by police working in cahoots with the drug testing team and lying in wait to find those harbouring illicit substances.
But a helpful debrief on the NZ Drug Foundation’s website quickly soothed concerns, calmly explaining that there is full anonymity and the practice has police support.
This year, KYSNZ will be stationed at several festivals for anyone wanting clarity that what they’re taking is, in fact, what they believe it to be.
The shift from punitive measures to education is worth considering not just in the party bus but in New Zealand’s widespread issues of addiction and drug-related crime.
In arguing for an overhaul of outdated drug laws, Dr Rose Crossin and Professor Joe Boden urge through Newsroom that we need to challenge the status quo when it comes to drug legislation.
“The 1970s may have been fun, but when it comes to drug policy, it’s time to let them go.”
With letting go should also come upped resources to organisations like KYSNZ, who are providing invaluable information to people then able to make their own educated, safe choices.