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Why New Zealand festivals can't deal to the drug problem

Charlotte Cook
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Festivals are legally unable to keep people safe from drugs at their events

A festival goer who unknowingly took fake MDMA/ecstasy said the effects lasted 5 days.

Police confirmed 13 users of the fake drug, including a 15-year-old were hospitalised after the Electric Ave festival in Christchurch in February.

On 24 February, Christchurch Hospital Emergency Department reported the admission of a number of people suffering from a 'bad batch of MDMA/ecstasy'. 

Police have since established it was N-Ethypentylone - a psychoactive cathinone which is three times stronger than ecstasy. 

Detective Inspector Greg Murton said, "The issue for the public is that a dose of MDMA/ecstasy is generally 100mg, however, to get the same effect only 30mg of N-Ethylpentylone is required,". 

Deaths have been documented overseas as a result of an accidental overdose of N-Ethylpentyone.


A person, who didn't want to be named, experienced the fake drug and said he and 20 friends couldn't sleep for up to 48 hours and experienced "uncannily similar symptoms."

"I became quite anxious, self-conscious I was really self-aware to the point where I thought everyone was looking at me." He said this then turned into paranoia, accompanied by a fast heart-rate.  Some of his friends were still experiencing problems five days later.


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KnowYourStuffNZ, an organisation that tests pills at events, had known about the drug for over a year but isn't technically allowed at festivals due to a grey area the law.

KnowYourStuffNZ spokeswoman Wendy Allison said, "If event organisers have us there, they become liable for holding an event where they are knowingly aware of illicit drug activity... they stand to lose their livelihoods.". 

"What we do is not explicitly illegal, but not explicitly legal. The issue is everything around what we do is illegal, for example, possession of illicit substances. The organisers of events are also criminalised for knowingly permitting a venue to be used for drugs. So if they get us in, they are admitting they know people are at their venue using drugs and that makes them criminals." She wants the law changed to her organisation can attend events without organisers getting into trouble.

Allison said KnowYourStuffNZ will only go to events if invited and if organisers are aware of the risks involved.

She said, their involvement in Electric Avenue would have significantly reduced the harm to festival goers, "If the law were clarified to make an exception to harm reduction services, or to explicitly allow pill testing then there wouldn't be that barrier in the way."  

The next large festival in New Zealand is Jim Beam Homegrown in Wellington.

Event organisers hadn't heard about the hospitalisations and widespread effect of Electric Avenue but said they are always aware of the risks involved. 

Kelly Wright from the Homegrown team said on a personal level we all know what we want and for our kids to be safe, but in order to run our event we have to have a strong relationship with the Police and Council which prevents us from having drug and pill testing due to the legalities behind it. 

"We can't be seen to give drugs back to people after they have handed them over for testing". 

Wright said they have upped their security and have tight policies on safety. "No one gets kicked out of Homegrown, we have safe zones and 'aunties' who are simply there to ensure everyone is safe."