This is a cautionary tale from the summer just past.

It involves two friends of mine who shall remain nameless, and a particular New Zealand music festival, which will remain nameless as well.

My friends are working professionals. They are educated, responsible and smart. And like many New Zealanders, my friends occasionally use recreational drugs.

It's not something they necessarily do often - both of them would be much more likely to enjoy a few glasses of wine than smoke a joint or take a pill. But a couple of times a year they plan a big weekend.


On this occasion, my friends spent several hundred dollars on drugs to take at a music festival. As well as marijuana, they bought what they thought were Ecstasy pills.

They've never had any interest in methamphetamine or anything requiring injections, but figured that Ecstasy would give them a night or two of dancing euphoria. They'd used it several times overseas and enjoyed its effects.

Inside the festival, my friends came by a public tent they'd never seen at a New Zealand festival before. Labelled 'Harm Reduction,' someone explained to them that a group of volunteers could quietly test their illegal drugs.

Instead of simply necking their pills and waiting to see what happened, my friends could be surer of what they were actually ingesting. The police were aware of the tent's drug-testing service but would not be hassling its visitors, and while the volunteers were prohibited from actually touching the drugs, they talked my friends through the testing process.

My mate dropped a chemical on the pills, and waited for the results. One set of drugs tested positive for Ecstasy. One set did not.

The little blue pills my friends had purchased were actually comprised of Alpha-PVP, a synthetic drug commonly included in the 'bath salts' family. The drug has been blamed for at least one recent overdose death in New Zealand, as well as numerous hospitalisations.

Though proper research into its effects is startlingly limited, the internet is alive with bizarre and frightening reports about bath salts users' behaviour. If you really don't fancy the risk of getting publicly naked, violent and potentially psychotic, bath salts are probably best to avoid.

I've no doubt my mates weren't the only ones at their festival to use the Harm Reduction facilities. Similar services have apparently been available for years at festivals overseas.


But this is a cautionary tale for good reason. It could have been about a couple of friends who took drugs they thought were something else and ended up in trouble. It could have been about a police bust that criminalised a couple of people caught with pills at a music festival. But it's not.

I'm not advocating drug use but to a certain extent it is human nature. Illegality isn't much of a deterrent. And surely we're at a stage where we can accept that even people who are mostly rational and responsible will sometimes choose to take drugs. And rational, responsible people are much less likely to harm themselves if they actually know what they're taking.

My friends spent a few hundred dollars on pills. They thought they were buying something they weren't. But given the option of taking something they trusted and something they didn't, their decision at the festival was easy.

They flushed the pills down the toilet.