‘Welcome to the decline’ of dangerous synthetic drugs seized in New Zealand

Police report a “welcome drop” in the detection of dangerous synthetic drugs often sold as MDMA, which caused dozens of hospitalizations last summer.

There has been at least one cathinone-related death in New Zealand, and over 100 in Europe. They are the name used for a group of new psychoactive substances, the most common type found in New Zealand last year being euytlone.

The drug can offer the same euphoric high as MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, but wears off quickly, often leaving users with a range of symptoms including tremors, vomiting, paranoia, panic attacks, hallucinations, seizures and anxiety.

An influx has prompted drug testing agency Know Your Stuff to dub 2020 “the summer of the cathinones”.

READ MORE:
* Dangerous Drugs Early Warning System reaches online audience of over 1 million in one year
* “Very dangerous” meth-like substitute found in package delivered to unsuspecting resident in Wellington
* Border seizures of synthetic MDMA substitutes have skyrocketed in the past two years

A sample of synthetic cathinone eutylone found by Know Your Stuff NZ, which was sold as MDMA.

Know Your Stuff / Provided

A sample of synthetic cathinone eutylone found by Know Your Stuff NZ, which was sold as MDMA.

On December 30 last year, Know Your Stuff NZ reported that more than half of the samples they tested at New Year’s Eve festivals were not MDMA, but rather cathinones.

There were no seizures of eutylone between 2015 and 2018, but from March 2019 to December last year, customs prevented 13.5 kg from entering the country.

Detective Inspector Blair Macdonald, director of the National Drug Intelligence Bureau, expected drug availability throughout the festival season this summer to be significantly different from last year.

Detective Inspector Blair Macdonald, Director of the National Drug Intelligence Bureau.

Supplied/police nz

Detective Inspector Blair Macdonald, Director of the National Drug Intelligence Bureau.

“Compared to last summer, the volumes of cathinone seizures have halved and customs only made one detection at the border in September and October,” he said.

Most of the world’s cathinones are made in China and exported around the world through dark web imports or transnational organized crime groups.

In May, China banned the manufacture of a number of synthetic cathinones, including eutylone, which Macdonald said had likely impacted production and availability.

However, Know Your Stuff NZ chief executive Wendy Allison said new synthetic cathinones were still being discovered. One was dimethylpentylone, which was detected in Dunedin earlier this month – the first time in New Zealand.

A sample of Dimethylpentylone, a synthetic cathinone first found in New Zealand earlier this month.

Provided

A sample of Dimethylpentylone, a synthetic cathinone first found in New Zealand earlier this month.

“We are seeing new cathinones, some of which are so new that we don’t know enough about them to give people accurate information to assess the risks. So we advise people not to take this stuff.

While the agency was seeing fewer synthetic drugs compared to this time last year, things could change very quickly, Allison said.

“It only takes one person to flood the market with something questionable, and we have a problem.

“We first started reporting our concerns about euytlone just before Christmas last year and then of course by New Years he was everywhere.”

Wendy Allison, managing director of Know Your Stuff NZ.

ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Wendy Allison, managing director of Know Your Stuff NZ.

While cathinone seizures are down, MDMA powder seizures between September and November increased by an additional 10 kg compared to the same period in 2020.

“MDMA prices have declined over the past month, with online channels and social media showing more listings and larger quantities for sale. Our national sewage testing program has also seen an increase in 14% of MDMA use between September and October of this year,” Macdonald said.

Police are concerned that addiction support services will not be as freely available this summer, as many events that have medical assistance pending have been canceled or postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“Support such as drug control services may be offered at a festival, but not at your local beach. So knowing what drugs you have and getting advice on how to protect yourself may be harder to come by this year,” Macdonald said.

High Alert is a source of current information on harmful drug events and dangerous new substances. People can sign up on the website to receive email notifications or access information on High Alert social media pages.

Alvin J. Chase