New Zealand has topped an international study of traces of illegal designer drugs in wastewater during last year's peak summer holiday period break.
And researchers say that could be down to the lack of Covid-19 lockdowns here at that time last summer, and the high number of New Zealanders who attended festivals and other entertainment events.
A new study by the University of South Australia has found that New Zealanders consumed the highest loads of new psychoactive substances (NPS), with "bath salts" being the dominant drug.
For the study wastewater samples were taken for up to nine days over the 2020−2021 New Year period from 25 sites in 10 countries.
While many countries were still in lockdown during the silly season, New Zealand was the only country that did not have any Covid restrictions, meaning there were no limitations on social events or gatherings.
Researches said the findings may reflect the fact that Kiwis were attending festivals and other gatherings where drugs were taken.
Those countries included Australia, China, Fiji, New Zealand, Korea and the United States.
Three sites were set up across New Zealand.
NPS include a range of drugs that have been designed to mimic established illicit drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine, MDMA and LSD.
Last year drug-checking organisation warned drug users ahead of New Year's Eve, telling partygoers that dangerous drugs are "bloody everywhere".
Know Your Stuff at the time said that its testing reveals that half the drugs purporting to be MDMA contain dangerous cathinones, also known as "bath salts".
University of South Australia's, Associate Professor Cobus Gerber and University of Queensland's Dr Richard Bade outlined the results for designer drugs detected in wastewater samples in 10 countries over the New Year.
While New Zealand, Australia and Canada showed the highest drug use, China and Fiji showed the lowest.
Researchers believe these findings could reflect the number of sites tested in each country, with Covid lockdowns also affecting the results.
"All samples were collected against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, when all countries except New Zealand were in lockdown, limiting social interaction and large gatherings," Gerber said.
"This probably impacted on the distribution and consumption of certain drugs."
For the first time every, traces of two toxic drugs were also detected over this time.
While 3-Methylmethcathinone, also known as 3-MMC was prevalent in Europe, it was the first time it was detected in New Zealand.
High levels of eutylone were found in New Zealand.
"High levels of eutylone found in New Zealand were backed up by media reports showing that more than half of ecstasy pills tested in festivals there over the New Year period were found not to contain MDMA but other substitutes like eutylone," said Bade.
Last month, 14 people were arrested in relation to a drug ring operating out of Auckland Airport. The group are accused of smuggling or conspiring to smuggle close to 500kg of methamphetamine from Malaysia on various incoming flights.
On Wednesday a further 14 people were arrested over alleged drug smuggling between Los Angeles Airport and Auckland since the start of this year.
The group allegedly conspired to import more than 100kg of methamphetamine, which police said would have caused nearly $124m worth of social harm.
Researchers detected 11 designer drugs across 24 sites in all countries. One site in Fiji showed no trace of NPS.
Gerber said wastewater sampling like those taken in this study give an insight into changing drug use.
"Allowing health agencies to pinpoint emerging trends so they can take action and minimise harm," he said.
Drug testing at festivals
In October it was announced that festival drug-checking services will get an $800,000 boost from the Government this summer.
Health Minister Andrew Little announced that the funding will be for national co-ordination of services, training of drug-checkers and providing information about the harm that drugs do.
He said the Government was supporting drug-checking services to help keep young people safe at this summer's large festivals and events.
"This is not about condoning drug use, but about keeping people safe," Little said.
"There is clear evidence that having drug-checking services at festivals changes behaviour and reduces harm."
Last summer was the first time that drug-checking services, in which drugs are checked to see if they are what people think they are, were made legal.
Only people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to attend events and festivals.