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Drug checking organisations in New Zealand have noticed an increase in concerns around the effects of methamphetamine. Here's their take on the situation...

Drug checking organisations in New Zealand have noticed an increase in clients bringing in methamphetamine in for testing with concerns about the effects of their drugs. We're sharing this update to support these organisations share harm reduction advice. It was written by KnowYourStuff in conjunction with NZ Needle Exchange. You can read the full article here.

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Written by KnowYourStuff in conjunction with NZ Needle Exchange

There’s some history of methamphetamine causing strange effects, or not being the same quality as people expect or remember from past experience. The experiences people have been sharing with us recently however, seem to be a relatively new pattern in Aotearoa.

All of us in the harm reduction sphere in Aotearoa are working to help people take care of themselves and we want to get to the bottom of what’s happening. We’re still looking into this but this is what we know so far:

What are the test results saying?

We’ve had 166 samples of methamphetamine brought in for testing to the NZ Needle Exchange, KnowYourStuffNZ, and The NZ Drug Foundation in the last 6 months. Some highly experienced clients brought us two samples where they were confident one bag caused normal effects and the other gave unexpected, unpleasant effects. The clinics were held nationwide.

Chart showing percentage of spectrometer results that were consistent with methamphetamine (95%)

Samples not consistent with methamphetamine on the first read: 9 & Samples consistent with methamphetamine on the first read: 158

Most of the methamphetamine people brought into the drug checking clinics was consistent with methamphetamine when it was run through the spectrometer.

If a sample was either not consistent with methamphetamine when tested with the spectrometer, or it was associated with harm or negative effects, it was sent to a lab for further analysis.

Chart showing percentage of samples sent away to ESR for further testing (21%)

Samples sent away for further testing: 35 & Samples returned to the client or destroyed: 132

Further examination of those 35 samples showed

  • 1 sample that was n-isopropylbenzylamine (n-iso) with no methamphetamine present
  • 1 sample of Cyclohexanamine with traces of methamphetamine
  • 2 samples of methamphetamine with n-iso mixed in
  • 31 samples were consistent with methamphetamine, sometimes with low-risk fillers or binders.

Chart showing the breakdown of samples sent away to ESR. Methamphetamine and nothing else: 89%. Methamphetamine and other psychoactive mixed 6%. Not methamphetamine at all: 6%

What are people experiencing?

Methamphetamine is a stimulant. The usual effects of stimulants are alertness, being energised and euphoria. We don’t expect moderate methamphetamine use to cause rapid and intense tiredness or fatigue, difficulty seeing, joint swelling, long-lasting headaches, sharp stomach pains or an uncomfortable burning sensation or skin rash far away from the injection site. But these are some of the experiences our clients are sharing.

Chart showing samples that have been associated with harm or negative effects (19%)

Total number of samples that were associated with negative effects: 31 & Total samples that had standard methamphetamine effects: 136

Quick check in

People who have taken methamphetamine for a few days at a time, with no breaks for rest or recovery, may be familiar with effects such as getting tired and falling asleep, being anxious or depressed, and feeling physically wrecked.

This is pretty standard for folk that have been awake for a few days and is similar to coming down with a cold or the flu. Your joints ache, you feel sick, you get a crushing headache, and your mood goes through the floor. Sleep is how your body and mind replenishes and fixes itself from daily wear and tear, so if you’re not sleeping, you’re not giving yourself the chance to recover.

Read more here about what sleep does and how it works on the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website.

We acknowledge that these are also effects of long-term, frequent methamphetamine use. But we wouldn’t expect to see these effects when sticking to a lower dose over a shorter period of time, especially if the dose is administered correctly along with basic physical maintenance such as rest and food.

Keep reading the full article here for more info about why this might be happening, n-iso, sleepy meth, and salt and vinegar meth.

How to stay safer

  • Drug checking can help tell you what's actually in a substance. It's a free, legal and completely confidential service. You can find info about upcoming clinics here, as well as advice on what to do it you can't make it to a clinic.
  • If you usually inject meth, try smoking a small amount before deciding to inject it. People have told drug checkers that if they smoke it and feel headaches and other undesirable effects, they won’t inject it.
  • Start low and go slow: Take just a small amount to start with, and wait to feel the effects before taking more.
  • If you’re injecting, use new equipment each time and use a wheel filter if you can. Head to your local needle exchange for equipment and tips on how to use wheel filters.
  • Avoid using alone. Have a buddy who can help, and call an ambulance, if things go wrong.

Check out KnowYourStuffNZ’s harm reduction guide for methamphetamine here.

Further harm reduction advice for methamphetamine is available through The Level and the New Zealand Needle Exchange

As always, if you experienced unexpected effects from any substance, please let us know through our ‘Report unusual effects’ page. It’s completely confidential and will help keep others safe.

If you have any concerns about your own drinking or drug taking, get in touch with the Alcohol Drug Helpline Call 0800 787 797, or text 8681, to speak with a trained counsellor – they’ll be able to provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential. You can also chat with the team through the website.