Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Know Your Stuff: getting real about drug-checking

25 Responses

  • Russell Brown,

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • Anke Richter,

    Great work, Russell! The link where I can chip in to support your work doesn't lead me to any such page (but another story) - did I overlook something? Btw, please come to the Investigative Journalism Conference in August if you can: www.cij.org.nz

    Lyttelton • Since May 2007 • 24 posts Report Reply

  • tatjna,

    Thank you Russell for being the lone voice for so long on this issue. It was because of you that we got any traction at all, and 3 years on your reporting is still the best. :)

    Wellington • Since Dec 2010 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to tatjna,

    Thank you Russell for being the lone voice for so long on this issue. It was because of you that we got any traction at all, and 3 years on your reporting is still the best. :)

    Aw, cheers Wendy. I still remember having about two minutes to talk after we met to run a session at Foo and both discovering that at last here was someone else who got it :-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Anke Richter,

    Great work, Russell! The link where I can chip in to support your work doesn’t lead me to any such page (but another story) – did I overlook something?

    The link's in the story!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Fark. Here’s what can happen.

    Ten people who were hospitalised after thinking they had bought MDMA had actually taken a crystallised form of ‘zombie drug’ Spice.

    Ten people were taken to hospital after taking the drug and police said this is the first time they have seen it in a more potent form.

    Officers said that people believed they were buying MDMA – a form of ecstasy – but had in fact taken a powerful new form of the synthetic high in Greater Manchester.

    The Daily Mirror story itself is a shambles. Stop calling synthetic cannabinoids “Spice”, ffs.

    And it’s not “in crystalised, and much more potent and unrefined form”, it’s just the drug before it’s sprayed into random vegetable matter. There’s no excuse for drug reporting being this bad and stupid.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    two thirds of people told they didn’t have what they thought they did chose not to take it

    Are punters given the full breakdown of what’s actually in their putative pills, or just the binary of whether or not it is what they think they should have?
    The former would at least make some sense of the one-third of people told they have something else who then choose to take it anyway: if they know what it is, they can make an informed choice. (Yeah, OK, using recreational drugs correlates with risk-taking, so one shouldn’t expect entirely rational risk assessment, but still…)

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1785 posts Report Reply

  • Jez Weston, in reply to linger,

    Are punters given the full breakdown of what’s actually in their putative pills, or just the binary of whether or not it is what they think they should have?

    I've been helping KnowYourStuffNZ with the testing this summer.

    We are using both reagent testing and FT-IR spectroscopy. For 95% of samples, we can tell people what psychoactives are present.

    So we're not just telling people that what they have is not what they presumed, we can say something like "in the sample you have, we haven't detected MDMA, but we have detected X, Y, and Z". Then people can make their decision based on that information.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2017 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • tatjna, in reply to Russell Brown,

    The frustrating thing about that UK scare is the way that all the media outlets ran with the police line that it was 'a particularly potent form of MDMA' - they did this without it having been tested and it was pure speculation. Then after testing when it turned out to be synthetic cannabinoids, they called it Spice -which means about as much as bath salts in the world of harm reduction. They are umbrella terms used colloquially to describe families of drugs and give *zero* useful information about what the substance actually is.

    Additionally, KnowYourStuffNZ tested a lot of pink crystals this year, and found 39 different psychoactive substances. There is simply no way to tell what is in a substance by looking at it. Yet another argument for implementation of drug checking nationwide.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2010 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    'Spice' aka 'Hurry Curry'?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7630 posts Report Reply

  • Thomas Lumley,

    Your "Todays Q+A Report" link is being treated as a relative URL not an absolute one.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2013 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Jez Weston,

    So we’re not just telling people that what they have is not what they presumed, we can say something like “in the sample you have, we haven’t detected MDMA, but we have detected X, Y, and Z”. Then people can make their decision based on that information.

    Which I guess might be: "Yeah, this white powder you've spent a shitload of money on? Not cocaine. But it is amphetamine and nothing else."

    It's not an entirely irrational choice to still choose to proceed in that situation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to tatjna,

    Additionally, KnowYourStuffNZ tested a lot of pink crystals this year, and found 39 different psychoactive substances.

    I have a couple of people I can talk to to stay up with things in Auckland. One of them has seen a couple of instances of god-knows-what powder (supposedly of Chinese origin) treated and stained brown to make look like MDMA. Good enough for the kids, apparently. And South Islanders, who apparently get Auckland's reject recreational drugs.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to tatjna,

    ...they called it Spice - which means about as much as bath salts in the world of harm reduction.

    Sean Tejaratchi did a nice passing pisstake of that kind of thing a couple of years ago: "...some new narcotic called Toilet Brittle. It's made from trail mix and hand lotion."

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4553 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Russell Brown,

    The Daily Mirror story itself is a shambles. Stop calling synthetic cannabinoids “Spice”, ffs.

    So i can't use it to navigate the galaxy then. Good to know.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2868 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to nzlemming,

    So i can’t use it to navigate the galaxy then. Good to know.

    “He who controls the spice controls the universe.”
    - from the Kronicles of Maud'Dib'

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7630 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Russell Brown,

    It’s not an entirely irrational choice to still choose to proceed in that situation.

    Exactly; which is why — given that amount of knowledge — the 1/3 willing to proceed anyway is maybe not as serious a problem as it might otherwise appear. To fully make sense of the “2/3 decided not to” statistic, we’d really need more detail on what the alternatives were (essentially: no significant drug content [so then why not try it?] / different drug with effects known and desired by the purchaser / different drug with effects unknown to the purchaser / different drug with known effects not desired by the purchaser); but of course that classification depends on whether or not the actual ingredients consisted of a drug the user was willing to try — which is subjective, and not something KnowYourStuff would necessarily ask about.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1785 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Thomas Lumley,

    Your "Todays Q+A Report" link is being treated as a relative URL not an absolute one.

    Oops, thanks. Weird thing was, it worked inside the CMS but not on the page.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • tatjna, in reply to linger,

    To fully make sense of the “2/3 decided not to” statistic, we’d really need more detail on what the alternatives were.

    You are quite right. KnowYourStuffNZ did ask people to expand on their reasons for choosing to take a substance that turned out not to be as presumed, however the responses were subjective and not really useful for making claims from a research perspective.

    Anecdotally and by observation only (ie not backed by data), they generally fell into two broad categories - "Had used before with no problems" and "Was identified as another desirable substance" (ie cocaine that turned out to be speed). Even these people often said that they would approach with much more caution than they would have had they not gone through the checking process.

    We can judge these reasons as much as we like, but the outstanding thing for me is how few people fell into the 'don't know, don't care, will gob anything for kicks' category that seems to be the stereotypical one applied to drug users.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2010 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • william blake,

    I will continue to wowser and go back to the health issue, harm reduction position. On the spot drug analysis may head off acute poisoning from ingestion of an unexpected drug but what about longer term effects of a churning chemical smorgasbord? Is anybody testing the human lab rats for short, medium or long term cognitive imparement, liver or heart damage, cancer etc.? Insisting it is sensible to minimise the immediate damage may give a green light and a false sense of security on the night that may make people think narcotics are a healthy, long term, gluten free alternative. Does Know Your Stuff suggest a dose for each ‘patient’ based on their physiological and psychological medical records? ( including don’t do it dude) I’m not convinced that this is a health initiative rather than a happy party initiative

    Since Mar 2010 • 360 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to william blake,

    Your position is only tenable if you can show that it actually further reduces harm, compared to a programme that demonstrably reduces the risk of people taking unknown drugs. In pointing to a knowledge gap, you seem to have somehow missed the point that this initiative reduces the existing knowledge gap.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1785 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to william blake,

    On the spot drug analysis may head off acute poisoning from ingestion of an unexpected drug but what about longer term effects of a churning chemical smorgasbord? Is anybody testing the human lab rats for short, medium or long term cognitive imparement, liver or heart damage, cancer etc.?

    Well, it would certainly let someone know whether what they had was a "churning chemical smorgasbord", rather than, say, the drug they thought they had. Are you proposing that nothing be done if it doesn't involve a long-term study?

    Insisting it is sensible to minimise the immediate damage may give a green light and a false sense of security on the night that may make people think narcotics are a healthy, long term, gluten free alternative.

    (1) Yes, it is sensible to minimise harm.

    (2) No one's taking "narcotics". Words have meanings.

    (3) The sends-the-wrong-message philosophy on drug policy has a grisly and ineffective history.

    Does Know Your Stuff suggest a dose for each ‘patient’ based on their physiological and psychological medical records? ( including don’t do it dude) I’m not convinced that this is a health initiative rather than a happy party initiative

    Yes, because a tent at a music festival with the sole purpose of telling people not to take any drugs ever is really going to be a success.

    I've seen the Know Your Stuff process in action and it does actually involve talking to people about dose - the "start low, go slow" approach. The counselling part is quite key.

    But perhaps you should talk to Dr Paul Quigley, or one of the other emergency medics who back drug-checking because it works.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

  • william blake,

    In the current context of drug use or substance abuse being illegal, on the spot drug tests are an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff solution. And it isn't even an ambulance it's just a van with some equipment and some caring people; with no system backing it up.

    If the context is changed to legalised drug use, on the spot drug tests, if needed, become a kind of consumer guarantee in the free market but more likely drugs would be manufactured to quality standards, sold and taxed; and side effects and harm would be managed for profit. The whole spectrum of drugs would be available reliably and cheaply, like alcohol; and we know how well that works.

    Preferably with decriminalisation harm would be managed without the extra threat of prosecution for the user. On the spot drug testing would be a part of a raft of initiatives aimed at keeping people safe and well.

    Since Mar 2010 • 360 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to william blake,

    Yes, under legalisation and regulation (not decriminalisation) drug quality would be somewhat guaranteed. We've actually seen that already with cannabis legalisation in US states, where consumer weed is now tested for pesticide residues and mould.

    But I honestly can't see how that says that testing to make sure presumed recreational drugs aren't something completely different and much more dangerous is a bad idea.

    If we're to abandon harm reduction until everything is legal, then we'd be ending needle exchange – and that would be a terrible idea.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22403 posts Report Reply

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