NZDrugFoundation DrugCheck 23

If you're reading this, you hopefully know what drug checking is.

In Aotearoa it's a free, legal and completely confidential service where you can bring in any substance and get it tested to help you stay safer.

The Drug Foundation (which runs The Level) is one of three drug checking providers, and we've just released the results of what we found after checking 2602 samples in 2023.

Here are the top 10 things you need to know. 

1. Nearly 1 in 5 drugs we checked were different to what was expected

The most dangerous drug is the one you aren't expecting, so this goes to show how important getting your drugs checked is.

64% of drugs were what people thought they were, although some contained binder or filler.

2. We found binder or filler in 35% of drugs

Binders and fillers aren't psychoactive, but they are often used to 'bulk out' drugs. It can be important to know if your drugs have binder or filler, as some can be dangerous to inject (like gelatine) or can hurt to snort (like Epsom salts).

Drug checkers can tell you what fillers are in your drugs. 

Here are the most common ones we found.

3. We found some concerning stuff

The drug market is unregulated and volatile, so that means new substances continue to pop up. Some of these are particularly potent and concerning.

In 2023, drug checking services saw nitazenes, novel benzodiazepines, Alpha-PVP and other synthetic cathinones, NBOMes/NBOHs and industrial chemicals all sold as other substances.

Nitazenes, which are particularly potent family of synthetic opioid, are particularly concerning, as they can be fatal at very small doses. 

4. When MDMA wasn't actually MDMA, it was usually synthetic cathinones

Synthetic cathinones are often sold as MDMA as the effects can be similar at first, but can be stronger and become more unpredictable and unpleasant.

We also found caffeine, ketamine, methamphatamine, cocaine and MDA or MDEA in samples that people thought were MDMA.

5. Only 71% of cocaine was actually cocaine

Almost 30% of the cocaine samples we checked weren't cocaine or were cocaine mixed with another drug. 

Common drugs we saw mixed with cocaine were benzoylecgonine, benzocaine, atropine, caffeine and MDMA.

6. A quarter of meth wasn't as expected

And more than 1 in 5 methamphetamine samples were a completely different substance. We saw isopropylbenzylamine, synthetic cathinones, MDMA, amphetamine, ephedrine, and levamisole in samples people thought were meth. 

7. Ketamine was as expected 91% of the time

Ketamine was the most likely drug to check out as expected. When it didn't turn out to be ketamine, we found MDMA, fluorexetamine, heroin and deschloroketamine.


8. 10% of LSD was something else

For most drugs we check, we use a scientific machine called a spectrometer to tell us what's in your drugs. However, we can't use this machine to check LSD on blotter paper. Instead, we use a reagent called Ehrlich's which turns purple if an indole (a family of drugs which includes LSD, psilocybin or DMT) is present. 

90% of LSD samples we checked were found to contain an indole.

10% did not react with Ehrlich’s, and most of these were found to contain NBOMe-type substances.

9. 100% of people who used a drug checking service had a convo about staying safer

Part of what makes drug checking so useful is that we talk to everyone who uses the service about ways to stay safer if they're using drugs. It's a two-way conversation, and we love hearing what people do to reduce harm if they're taking drugs.

Of the people we heard from in 2023:

  • 53% said they would now test other substances they are using
  • 37% said they use their drugs with other people around
  • 36% said they would avoid mixing with alcohol, other drugs or medicines. 

10. Drug checking is growing rapidly

We checked 2602 samples in 2023, compared with 1720 samples in 2022. We're stoked that more and more people are using the service. Drug checking not only helps you find out what's in your drugs, it means we can identify and share info about potentially risky drugs that might be circulating - helping keep everyone safer. If you used a drug checking service in 2023, thank you! 

You can read the full report over on the Drug Foundation website. 

Still confused about how drug checking works? Watch this handy video to find out more, or take a look at our calendar to find a drug checking clinic near you.

What is drug checking!?

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