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    • Waikato

The toxic chemicals phenanthroline and diethylene glycol have been detected in a peach/orange liquid presumed to an opioid in the Waikato region.

0044 web thumbnail
How to identify the drug
  • Peach/orange colour
  • Liquid

This notification is to let you know that the toxic chemicals phenanthroline and diethylene glycol have been detected in a peach/orange liquid presumed to be an opioid in the Waikato region. Both chemicals are toxic and have no psychoactive effects.

Phenanthroline is a chemical used in medical settings to test iron levels, and diethylene glycol is found in a wide range of industrial products and can be toxic in very low doses. It is used in the production of multiple different products including antifreeze, brake fluids, wallpaper strippers, and as a plasticiser. They are not recommended for consumption.

The substance is believed to be circulating in the Waikato region and may possibly be present in other regions. The concern is that people may already have this substance believing it to be an opioid, like liquid oxycodone, or that this substance may be sold as an opioid. It is important to never assume that what you have is what you are being told it is. Misrepresentation can occur anywhere along the supply chain.

High Alert strongly urges people not to take this substance at all. Drug checking services can help identify when a substance is not what it has been sold as. Find upcoming clinics at The Level

If you have heard of any reports of this drug, please let us know! The alert ID is N24/0044. All submissions are anonymous.

How to recognise the drug

The sample was submitted to a drug checking clinic run by KnowYourStuffNZ in the Waikato region. It was a large ampule of peach/orange liquid, that was presumed to be an opioid.

Further preliminary testing by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) found the substance contained phenanthroline and diethylene glycol, and no opioids.

These chemicals are considered toxic, and should not be consumed in any way, including injection. There is concern that people may intend to take this substance believing it to be an opioid such as oxycodone, and take a large dose. These chemicals do not have any psychoactive properties, so people may also take more when they don’t experience the anticipated effects.

Symptoms of phenanthroline can include shortness of breath, irritation, nausea, and headache. The onset of symptoms can develop soon after ingestion or can be delayed depending on the amount ingested.

Early symptoms of diethylene glycol consumption can include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, as well as inebriation. Other symptoms can be delayed more than 48 hours after use including abnormal urination, abdominal pain, weakness, and shortness of breath.

High Alert previously issued a notification in December 2021 after diethylene glycol was linked to a suspected poisoning case in Auckland, where the affected individual was hospitalised in a critical condition. Ingestion of diethylene glycol can cause severe kidney and neurologic injuries in humans and can be fatal.

How to reduce harm from the drug

This substance may continue to be sold as an opioid. It is unknown how widespread the circulation of this liquid is at the current time.

High Alert strongly urges people not to take this substance at all. Drug checking is recommended to help minimise the risk. 

KnowYourStuffNZ, the New Zealand Drug Foundation and the New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme (DISC) run regular drug checking clinics across the country, and a drop off service is now available in Auckland. A calendar of upcoming clinics can be found oThe Level.

If you choose to take a substance that might be this: 

  • Remember that this substance does not have any psychoactive effects.
  • Lower doses are less risky. Start off with a small amount to check how it affects you. In general, swallowing a substance has a slower onset than other methods and means there might be more time to get medical help if needed.
  • Avoid using it at the same time as other substances.
  • Avoid using alone. Have a buddy who can help, and call an ambulance, if things go wrong.
  • Avoid taking more.

Call 111 and ask for an ambulance immediately if you or someone else experiences unexpected effects after taking this substance.

The National Poisons Centre is also available 24/7 to help members of the public and healthcare professionals with clinical advice for exposures to this, or any other substance - please call 0800 764 766 (0800 POISON).

Stay safer by staying informed. Sign up to receive alerts and notifications about any dangerous drugs in NZ. Check out the alerts page to see what we've already found.

Are you concerned about your own drinking or drug taking? Reach out to the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or text 8681. You'll be able to speak with a trained counsellor who can provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential.

You can also chat to the Alcohol Drug Helpline team online through the website, or:

  • Call the Māori Line on 0800 787 798 for advice and referral to kaupapa Māori services.
  • Call the Pasifika Line on 0800 787 799 for advice and referral to services developed for Pacific people.
  • Call the Youth Line on 0800 787 984 for advice and referral to services for young people.