The Dodgy Drugs to Watch Out for This NYE

Trip Report gives us the lowdown on what to steer clear of if you're planning to ring in 2024 with a BNO.
The Dodgy Drugs to Watch Out for This NYE
Photos Getty Images, collage by Juliana Bonomo

There’s nothing scarier than fucked up pills that send you down some mad spiral on a night out or worse. And the fact that it’s soon-to-be New Year’s Eve – an altogether cursed enterprise that never lives up to its billing – means there’s all the more excuse to dabble in God’s bounty of synthetic and natural bits. 

That’s why it’s crucial you know the lay of the land regarding dodgy drugs out there in the UK and Europe at the moment. The good news is, if it’s ecstasy pills you’re after, they’re actually back to pre-COVID strength. Like, fully back to full strength – none of those duds about. So bear that in mind when dropping. However, there is some other sketchy stuff doing the rounds, be it in the UK or on the continent.


If you can get your stuff tested by an organisation like The Loop, if you’re in the UK, for example, then great. But if not, read on to find out what Cameron Scally of the Trip Report, a drugs harm reduction newsletter – who also has frontline nightlife experience through @ravesafe_uk – had to say ahead of NYE 2023.

VICE: Hi Cameron. So, what's the first drug you want to warn against and why? 
Cameron Scally:
It's pretty commonplace now for street benzos [e.g. Xanax and Valium] to be replaced with other stuff within the same category. But just over the course of this year, we've seen a lot more synthetic opioids worming their way into the market as substitutes. I can't say for sure that that's because of the Taliban retaking Afghanistan meant the opium supply cratered, but the fact that has happened after that is pretty suspicious.

The main worry with any benzo is mixing with alcohol or opioids, because the effects multiply together – you can get into fatal overdose territory really easily. So some of those pills sold as benzos randomly contain opioids like nitazenes – it's about as powerful as fentanyl and it's much harder to detect. That just means that things get a lot more dangerous quickly. 

What's happened in the last month or two is we've started to see pills that are being sold as Valium or Xanax containing both research benzodiazepines – mainly bromazolam – and synthetic opioids, mostly metonitazene. In Vancouver, in particular, their heroin/fentanyl supply got contaminated with benzos; a lot of people had fatal overdoses as a result. An equivalent to that has started to pop up [in the UK], which is this bromazolam and metonitazene. It's popping up all over the UK, but nobody's really talking about it yet. I've only started to see the first mainstream reports of nitazenes at all in the last couple of days. Anyone who's taking benzos at the moment, or in the near future, that's probably the main thing to be concerned about.


OK. And then what was the next warning for? 
It's tusi, or tucibi. It was also sold as pink cocaine for a while, in London, in particular. So that's still about, and it's just ketamine and MDMA [mixed together] – people are just getting absolutely ripped off more than anything. But if someone's taking it thinking that they're taking 2C-B and they might have some kind of sensitivity or issue with the other substances, then that can be a real cause for concern there, particularly because the mix is so weird. A lot of the time, it's like 50/50 ketamine to MDMA, although ket is much stronger than MD, milligramme for milligramme. So you're just k-holing and then, like, a little fleeing [Scottish slang for rushing].

How expensive is tusi?
It can really vary. A lot of the times I've seen it around the same price as ket. But I've also seen it sold at prices higher than cocaine, like when it’s advertised as “pink cocaine”.

The drugs we’ve discussed so far, they’re in the UK, but do these warnings have some relevance to the rest of Europe?
Tusi has been an international thing, but it's really taken hold in the UK in a particular way. You'll see it every now and then popping up in other countries, but it's really prevalent here. The stuff about nitazenes, I've really not seen much of that outside of the UK and Ireland. Maybe it's just because the sources in mainland Europe that I'm looking at are much more party drug-centred. So you just don't see as much benzos showing up in these kind of sources because of selection bias.


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Sure. And then your next drug warning?
It’s kind of weird to say, but the main worry is that ecstasy has improved massively. 2014 to 2020 was like this golden age for MDMA. It was dominated by these really highly organised, high level, mostly Dutch gangs. Did you ever encounter the pills that had two colours on them? 

I don't know, honestly.
It didn't make the pills better, but it just demonstrated that they had the capacity to make them that way. It's just really hard to manufacture these dual-colour pills. From there, you can infer stuff about the quality of the drug – which isn't necessarily true – but people can make that inference. In 2019, the precursor that they were using to make it, pmk glycidate, got banned properly. In 2020, law enforcement was able to crack an encryption service called Encrochat, that a lot of these high-level, organised crime syndicates were using to communicate amongst each other. They basically just chopped the head off the market. They took out some of the biggest players, some of the highest-quality players, and the MDMA market was just devastated by that.

I thought it was due to COVID or Ukraine or something.
COVID massively destroyed the demand, at least for a significant period. Encrochat chopped out the capacity to supply anything. It just meant that there was this rush of cathinones, stuff that's similar to MCAT, but that all started to show up and get sold as MDMA. That's basically disappeared from the market now. 

So the main worry now would be that because the doses have climbed so much, that people who are used to post-pandemic MDMA move into overdose territory, where they’re getting hyperthermic, where they’re getting dehydrated. 

Did you have a broader point you wanted to make about drug testing?
It's definitely better to test your drugs than not test your drugs. You want to know what you're taking as much as you possibly can. But most of the testing equipment you'll get is stuff like reagent tests, which you can use to rule some stuff out and narrow some stuff down. There's also going to be some things that that's not able to test for. If you understand the limitations of these kind of things, then they can be really valuable. But I always worry about the false confidence they can instill as well. Remember the needle-spiking epidemic, where it was never really clear if it was like an urban legend or not?

In the aftermath of that, there was a lot of conversation around addressing spiking within the harm reduction sphere that I’m in. There was a lot of talk around the nail polish or the straw that you can use to detect roofies or GHB, but the most common drug that people are spiked with is just more alcohol. If you had nail polish that checked for GHB, and you dip that in your drink and it didn't change colour, then you think you're okay. But it's just giving you false confidence.

That's the kind of thing that I want to take care around whenever I talk about harm reduction. Reagent testing can be really valuable, but something like a testing service, that's incredible stuff. I think The Loop recently started doing city centre testing, or at least, they got approved for city centre testing recently, after a lot of struggle. That's been a lot of work to make that happen, and that could be really valuable, particularly if it is able to be rolled out more widely.