On the weekend 15-16 January 2017, there was a spate of poisonings, hospitalisations and deaths that have been associated a batch of capsules that were reportedly sold as MDMA or Ecstasy. Punters at Revolver nightclub and other clubs on Melbourne’s Chapel Street were affected.
The contents of these caps appeared damp, more like a brown sugar consistency than crystals or powder.
We obtained anonymous reports from people who consumed these capsules. The reports describe very strong hallucinogenic symptoms and paranoia. While in most cases, the symptoms resolved without medical intervention, they were very unpleasant, with one person reporting that they ‘felt like they were going to die or never be the same again’.
Reagent test kit results were shared by Bernie Maitri: these reports showed the substance was unlikely to be MDMA-like, and could instead contain PM(M)A or 2C-T-X. However these results were inconclusive, so we arranged to send a sample of this drug to Barcelona, where Energy Control conducts an international testing service. Mireia Ventura conducted the tests with GC/MS and LC/MS. The testing confirmed that the contents of the capsules:
- 4-FA (main substance)
- a low amount of MDMA
This mixture is consistent with the reports. 25C-NBOMe is highly potent with only microgram doses required to produce strong hallucinogenic effects. 4-FA is an amphetamine-type stimulant which has been described as having an effect somewhere between amphetamine and MDMA. It is concerning that a low amount of MDMA was detected in the mixture, as this may be an indication that the manufacturers were hoping to fool reagent test kits by including enough MDMA to produce a positive result.
The NBOMe series when intentionally consumed is put under the tongue or in the cheek – swallowing is less effective, but clearly can still cause strong effects at certain doses. Snorting NBOMe is very dangerous and is more likely to cause death. Energy Control were unable to determine the dosage of 25C-NBOMe in this cap. It is likely to be a large dose, though, given that it was effective orally.
Of course there are limitations we must mention. There’s no evidence linking all of the poisonings, transports to hospital, or the deaths with this particular batch that was tested. The coroners reports on the causes of the deaths have not yet been finalised. Even if they are the same batch, the drugs may not be evenly distributed throughout the batch. There may be multiple batches circulating that have similar characteristics visually but may contain completely different drugs. Despite these limitations we believe it is important for people who use these to know as much as possible about what they might be consuming, and that is why we are posting this message. We hope you will share it widely with your friends.
There are a few messages to take away from these findings:
- Use reagent test kits wisely. Negative results are more useful than positive ones. If you test for MDxx and it is not present, then you know you did not get what you wanted, and should discard. BUT if you test for MDxx and it IS present, you CANNOT assume that MDxx is either the only drug present or even the main drug present. The combination we have found above is a dangerous one which may result in unwanted strong hallucinations. It could also be fatal especially if the NBOMe dose is extremely high or if the substance is snorted. You can use a combination of reagent test kits to get a better idea of what it contains. But currently, where we are seeing mixes of novel substances, more accurate technology is really a necessity.
- Please do not assume that just because the drugs in your possession do not look like the drugs pictures here, that they are therefore ‘safe’. Remember that no drug use is safe. There are always risks, but those risks can be reduced if you Know your Body. Know your Mind. Know your Substance. Know your Source
- Australians who care about the lives of people who use drugs, that is, people who use drugs, the families of people who use drugs, the communities of people who use drugs, the employers of people who use drugs, need to ask our politicians this question. Why do we have to go to Spain to find out the content of these capsules? There are many laboratories right here in Australia with the right equipment who could tell us the answers in hours or days, rather than weeks. We need lab-grade testing facilities available now in Australia to get timely information out to communities so they can be properly informed.
- Some harm reduction messages will remain the same. Swallow instead of snort. Look after your friends. If you see someone freaking out, get them help. Don’t hesitate to call an ambulance – the police do not attend unless there is a death or serious violence. Tell your friends what you are taking so they know what to tell emergency personnel if they have to take you to hospital.
- Do you work in a laboratory in Australia that is equipped to test the content and purity of illicit drugs? Are you willing to help? Right now we need to band together and look after our community. The Dutch, the Swiss, the Austrians, and many other countries have up-to-date information about what is circulating and what drugs are being misrepresented as other drugs so they can tell the drug-using networks and those who care for them who can make life-saving behavioural changes in response. If you can help us, we welcome you getting in contact with us.
Monica Barratt 'Tronica' & Stephanie Tzanetis
With many thanks to: Bernie Maitri, Energy Control (Mireia Ventura Cristina Gil and Iván Fornís), Johnboy Davidson, Stephen Bright, Raimondo Bruno, and the anonymous donor of the tested substance. Victoria Police Forensic Centre were made aware of our findings.