20 Mar 2018

Homegrown festival warned of dangerous fake ecstasy drug

10:47 am on 20 March 2018

Wellington's biggest music festival, Homegrown, is being encouraged by experts to have testing available next month to screen for a dangerous drug being sold as ecstasy.

Music festival generic

Groups like Know Your Stuff NZ attend music festivals and tell people how to test drugs with supplied equipment, so people know what they are taking. Photo: 123RF

N-Ethylpentylone is three times more potent than ecstasy, also known as MDMA, meaning people are often taking three times the usual dosage.

Six kilograms of N-Ethylpentylone, which is also known as bath salts, was found during the search of a Wellington address earlier this month.

Thirteen people were hospitalised in Christchurch last month, after taking bath salts and the drug also been linked to deaths overseas.

Groups like Know Your Stuff NZ attend music festivals and tell people how to test drugs with supplied equipment, so people know what they are taking.

Its director, Wendy Allison, said the substance was frequently being found in their testing of supposed MDMA.

"Without that testing, people are taking this stuff, they think it's MDMA and as the hospitalisations in Christchurch identified it is not the same as MDMA and potentially much more harmful," she said.

She said a warning about N-Ethylpentylone was put on their website as a result of the testing, two weeks before the hospitalisations at Christchurch took place, showing its importance as an early warning system.

The organisation only attended events once they were invited, because although they were not physically handling drugs, they were still working within a legal grey area, she said.

While drug testing and the kits were legal, the police said the possession of a Class A, B and C substance was illegal and if prosecuted for this someone could face serious consequences.

MDMA pills distributed by drug dealer seized by legal authority.

Some users believe they are taking MDMA when in fact they have N-Ethylpentylone which is a drug that is three times more potent. Photo: 123RF

Despite N-Ethylpentylone being found in their own backyard, Homegrown company director Mark Wright said they had been told testing would be illegal.

"We've consulted with police on this and the advice that we've been given is that it's illegal, so the short answer is we can't do it irrespective of if it seems like a good idea or not," he said.

The issue wasn't black and white, he said.

"If we could eliminate harm that would be great, do we want to encourage consumption of drugs? No."

The Drug Foundation's Samuel Andrews understood Homegrown's stance.

"We have been doing drug checking at some festivals, but that's down long dusty paths and quite small festivals.

"Homegrown has a much higher profile, so it is understandable that it is too much of a legal risk to them to provide this lifesaving service," he said.

Testing was the best way to helps save lives, Mr Andrews said.

"We need the government to step up to enable this to happen and that's where the ball lies for going forward."

He said the testing usually took between 10 to 15 minutes and during that time those testing their drugs were given harm reduction advice.

He said unfortunately it looked like the drug was here to stay.

That's why the Drug Foundation yesterday released harm reduction advise on their website.

However, a police spokesperson said the best way people could protect themselves was by not taking drugs at all.

"Police will continue to maintain an appropriate presence at these types of events to ensure people have a good time safely," they said.

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