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    • Wairarapa

Fentanyl found in white powder linked to serious harm events in the Wairarapa region.

How to identify the drug
  • White powder

On 25 June 2022, we issued a notification after serious hospitalisations in the Wairarapa region were linked to the consumption of an unknown white powder sold as cocaine. We are updating our advice and upgrading this alert as more information has come to light

High Alert has identified 12 cases requiring urgent medical care, including serious hospitalisations, in the Wairarapa region over the weekend, all believed to be linked to the consumption of a white powder. The powder has been sold as cocaine and methamphetamine. 

UPDATE 1 JULYA person was taken to Palmerston North hospital on 1 July following the consumption of what is believed to be the same substance linked to harm in the Wairarapa region. 

Those hospitalised displayed the same symptoms as an opioid overdose, and all responded well to naloxone – a drug that reverses an opioid overdose.

Preliminary testing indicated the presence of fentanyl, or a fentanyl-type substance. Further analysis was conducted by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) and preliminary results indicate the presence of fentanyl.

High Alert strongly urges people not to take any white powder at this time and testing is recommended to help minimise the risk. Fentanyl test strips can be used to check if a substance contains fentanyl. The Hemp Store and Needle Exchanges stock these strips.  

Drug checking services can also identify when a substance is not what it has been sold as. The Wellington Needle Exchange will be running a clinic this Wednesday, 29 June. For more information on this and future clinics, check The Level's drug checking calendar here.

High Alert strongly recommends having someone there when taking any substances who can call an ambulance or give naloxone when needed.

If you or someone you know consume a white powder and start to lose consciousness or breathe slowly, call 111 immediately. Be honest about your drug use, you won’t get in trouble and it could save your life. Naloxone can be used to temporarily reduce an opioid overdose.

If you have heard of any reports of this drug, please let us know! The alert ID is N22/0029. All submissions are anonymous.

How to recognise symptoms from the drug:

The substance is a white powder that was sold as cocaine and methamphetamine. It is possible it may also be sold as another substance.

Preliminary testing indicates the presence of fentanyl, or a fentanyl-type substance. Reported symptoms include:

  • Becoming unresponsive and/or losing consciousness
  • Slowed and/or difficulty breathing
  • Weak pulse

How to reduce harm from the drug:

The worry is that this substance may continue to be sold as cocaine, methamphetamine or another recreational drug in the Wairarapa region. Based on the number of hospitalisations and geographic spread of incidents, it is likely this substance is widely available in the Wairarapa region and possibly further.

High Alert urges extreme caution at this time. Do not take this substance at all.

Testing is recommended to help minimise the risk. Fentanyl test strips can be used to check if a substance contains fentanyl. The Hemp Store and Needle Exchanges stock these strips.  More information about upcoming drug checking clinics across the country can be found here.

While not taking white powder is the safest option, the New Zealand Drug Foundation advises there are a couple of things you can do to lower the risks:

  • Use fentanyl test strips to check if a substance contains fentanyl. The Hemp Store and Needle Exchanges stock these strips. Treat the substance as fentanyl and not as cocaine or any other recreational drug if fentanyl is detected.
  • Avoid snorting this substance. Swallowing a substance has a slower onset than other methods and means there is more time to get medical help if needed.
  • Don't take anything alone. Have a buddy who can help, and call an ambulance, if things go wrong.
  • Lower doses are less risky. Start off with a small amount to check how it affects you.
  • Avoid using it at the same time as other substances, especially depressant drugs such as alcohol, opioids, GHB/GBL, ketamine, and benzodiazepines, as these can increase the dangerous effects of opioids (for example, slowing or stopping breathing).
  • Avoid re-dosing or allow more time in between.
  • Have naloxone with you – a drug that can temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose and give you more time to get medical help. Some pharmacies and needle exchanges stock naloxone.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone else has a racing heart or other unusual symptoms after taking this substance. 

Call 111 and ask for an ambulance immediately if you or someone else has any of the below signs after taking this substance. Tell them what you have taken. Don’t leave the person alone and treat it as an overdose if unsure.

  • The person's face is extremely pale and/or feels clammy to the touch.
  • Their body goes limp.
  • Their fingernails or lips have a purple or blue colour.
  • They start vomiting or making gurgling noises.
  • They cannot be awakened or are unable to speak.
  • Their pupils become very small.
  • Their breathing and/or heartbeat slows or stops.

If you have heard of any reports of this drug, please let us know through the Report unusual effects page, the alert ID is N22/029. All submissions are anonymous.

Stay safer by staying informed. Sign up to receive alerts and notifications about any dangerous drugs in NZ. Check out the alerts page to see what we've already found.

Are you concerned about your own drinking or drug taking? Reach out to the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or text 8681. You'll be able to speak with a trained counsellor who can provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential.

You can also chat to the Alcohol Drug Helpline team online through the website, or:

  • Call the Māori Line on 0800 787 798 for advice and referral to kaupapa Māori services.
  • Call the Pasifika Line on 0800 787 799 for advice and referral to services developed for Pacific people.
  • Call the Youth Line on 0800 787 984 for advice and referral to services for young people.