Our History

KnowYourStuffNZ came into being when it emerged that new psychoactive chemicals and adulterated substances were being sold as more well-known and trusted recreational drugs. In many cases, these more dangerous substances led to difficult and harmful experiences. Medics at events along with other community members agreed that it was only a matter of time before someone died.

We got together to discuss answers. The options included:

  1. Do nothing and accept deaths as a side effect of drug use
  2. Police drugs at events to try to prevent use
  3. Provide harm reduction services

For obvious reasons, the first option was quickly discarded. After discussing the second option and observing this method in action overseas, we concluded that it would prove impossible due to cost, logistics, and the potential to increase harm rather than reducing it. There continues to be substantial evidence that such zero-tolerance policies do not stop drug use.

We settled on harm reduction. Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm reduction acknowledges that people will choose to take drugs regardless of the law. We reduce harms associated with that use by providing factual, proven information to drug users about the substances they intend to take so that they can understand the risks and make safer decisions.

KnowYourStuffNZ has been testing substances at events for five years, and in that time has expanded from working with just one event to a nationwide volunteer organisation that provided harm reduction services free of charge at 13 events in the 2018/2019 season.  In that time we have gathered data that shows that instead of condoning drug use as is often feared, drug checking in fact reduces drug use and its associated harms.  See Why it works for more information.

Our data is now being used to inform policy not only in New Zealand but internationally.

FAQ

Click on a question to be taken to the answer.

For urgent drug-related difficulties:

What should I do if someone I know has taken drugs and is having medical difficulties?
If someone goes to hospital while under the influence of drugs, will hospital staff call the Police?

How does drug checking work?

Will you be at X event?
Can I send you drugs for testing and/or is there somewhere I can get stuff tested outside events?
How much does testing cost?
Do I get my drugs back?
Can you determine the purity of a substance?
Do the Police hassle you?
Will the Police hassle me?
Where can I find the good drugs?

How does KnowYourStuffNZ work?

Who funds you?
How many events do you go to each year?
What services do you provide?
Who provides the service?
What is the legality of your service?
How can I get involved?
How can I support the service?

What is KnowYourStuffNZ’s stance on drug use?

What are your views on recreational drug use?
Does your service imply that recreational drug use is safe?
Doesn’t your service encourage drug use?
Do you tell the police what you have found?

Data and results

How much XYZ have you found and how does that compare with other years?
Is there a record of what you’ve found?
What do you do with the data?

FAQ For Media

Who should I contact for comment?
What have you been finding?
What events will you be going to?
Can I film inside your tent?
Who runs the service?

Know Your Stuff-9

What should I do if someone I know has taken drugs and is having medical difficulties?

We are not medics, but we recommend that if there are physical effects or you feel like they are in danger then you should seek medical help.

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If someone goes to hospital while under the influence of drugs, will hospital staff call the Police?

Hospital staff are very unlikely to contact the Police, unless a patient is violent. Please do not let fear of the Police stop you from seeking medical attention.

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Will you be at X event?

Now that the law’s changed to allow drug checking at events, we can say we will probably be at X event.

Although if we publicise where we will be, this will also tell dealers with dodgy gear to shift where we won’t be. This will make events that don’t have drug checking a target. So, we’re not telling.

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Can I send you drugs for testing and/or is there somewhere I can get stuff tested outside events?

We cannot accept samples through the mail. We are trialing public testing clinics in Wellington once per month and in other towns on an ad hoc basis, in partnership with the NZ Drug Foundation. Follow us on Twitter or on Facebook to find out when the next clinic will be.

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How much does testing cost?

We do not charge our clients for testing.

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Do I get my drugs back?

No. The sample you present for testing will be destroyed, but we only need a tiny amount (about half a match-head). It’s up to you how much you provide.

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Can you determine the purity of a substance?

No. The technology we use (FT-IR spectroscopy) is the best technology for field testing. We can tell you exactly what substances your sample contains, including active ingredients, fillers, cuts, or potentially dangerous substitutions or additives. We cannot measure purity.

We would like to be able to take samples for later lab testing as that could measure purity. However, with the law as it currently stands, we cannot do this. We are working to change this.

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Do the Police hassle you?

The Police want to see less drug-related harm. Drug checking reduces harm.  Thus, we have good relationships with the Police.

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Will the Police hassle me?

That depends whether you get in their face or not.

But seriously, our service exists in a legal grey area right now and the Police have been using their discretion. Don’t be a dickhead and you should be fine.

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Where can I find the good drugs?

Even if we knew, we wouldn’t tell you. Please don’t ask us this.

All client results are confidential. We publicise what we have found overall, but will not identify specific clients or events.

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Who funds you?

You do. We run entirely off donations. For commercial events we request a donation from the event to cover our costs.

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How many events do you go to each year?

For the 2019/20 season, we set a new record of 22 events. Hopefully with a law change we can get more funding and have a presence at more events.

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What services do you provide?

We provide advice about drug use and harm reduction. This takes the form of a conversation about risks, what users can expect from taking a drug, what to look out for and when to seek medical help, drug interactions, and how to keep other people safe. We also provide drug checking.

Testing and identifying substances allows for a further specific discussion about the risks and potential harms of that particular substance.

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Who provides the service?

We are all volunteers. We have backgrounds in drug counselling, chemistry, policy, and event management. Some of our key people.

We have over thirty people working with us.

We are independent but work in partnership with the NZ Drug Foundation, who have provided us with the use of their spectrometer.

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What is the legality of your service?

Our service is legal.

We are not in possession of illegal substances at any point in the testing. Our clients do all of the sample preparation and handling, with our guidance. We do not supply drugs, and any illegal substance used in testing is not returned.

However, it is a crime under Section 12 of the Misuse of Drugs Act to knowingly provide a venue for taking illicit drugs. Whether providing our service at an event means the event is providing a venue is unclear, meaning event organisers are taking a legal risk by allowing us to operate.

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How do I get involved?

Contact our volunteer co-ordinator through our web form. Remember to let us know your approximate location and the amount of time you’re able to commit.

It may take a while for us to respond, but we will get back to you.

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How can I support your service?

As we are completely funded by donations, we need your financial support. All donations are gratefully accepted.  Donations page

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What are your views on recreational drug use?

Our service exists to address drug-related harm, not drug use. We have a non-judgemental stance on drug use. Moralising doesn’t change behaviour or keep people safe.

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Does your service imply that recreational drug use is safe?

No.

Before testing, all clients are told that “Drug checking does not provide a guarantee of safety. All drug use is risky and the only way to be completely safe is to not use drugs. Individuals respond differently to drugs, and drug checking does not provide information about how I personally will respond.”

All drug use has risks. Our evidence shows that if you give people information about what they have, they make safer choices, but safer is not the same as 100% safe.

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Doesn’t your service encourage drug use?

Our clients have already purchased drugs and are already planning on using those drugs. If anything, we are reducing drug use as people with negative test results will either destroy their substances or choose not to take them.

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Do you tell the Police what you have found?

At the end of each season, we share our results publicly. We sit down with the Ministry of Health and the Police to discuss what we have found overall. We do not identify individual events (unless we have the event organisers’ permission).

During the season if we find particularly dangerous chemicals then we will let everyone know immediately, including the public, the Police, event medics, and other harm reduction bodies like Deep Space.

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How much XYZ have you found and how does that compare with other years?

We post alerts and information about what we’ve been finding and any issues of concern on our blog throughout the festival season, on our Latest News page.

At the end of each season, results are collated and posted to ‘Our Results’. Historic results and comparisons to previous years are also available on this page.

At this stage we cannot provide results per event.

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Is there a record of what you’ve found?

Data about what we’ve found is made public at the end of each season. Each year we summarise the data with links to more detailed information including specifics of type and number of substances: Our results.

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What do you do with the data?

We publish each year’s results on our website and share them openly. The overall results are anonymised and aggregated so that we do not identify individuals or events.

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FAQ FOR MEDIA

Who should I contact for comment?

Please contact our media spokesperson through our web form. You will be provided with a phone number for future contact. If you do not receive a response to your contact, please check your filters – our responses are sometimes auto-filtered by some organisations.

Please note that we are all volunteers. We have a good relationship with the media and are happy to answer your questions, but please be considerate of our time when you contact us.

Phone calls before 8am and after 6pm will not be returned.

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What have you been finding?

We post alerts and information about any issues of concern on our blog throughout the festival season, on our Latest News page.

At the end of each season, results are collated and posted to Our Results. Historic results and comparisons to previous years are also available on this page.

If you would like to be added to our media list to receive our occasional press releases, please contact us.

At this stage we cannot provide results per event.

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What events will you be going to?

We’re unable to share details of what events we will be attending without the express permission of the organisers, due to the way the law makes them vulnerable (see The Law section).

We are working to change that and hope that by the 2019/20 summer season this won’t be an issue any more. At that point, we will work with event organisers to publicise where we will be.

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Can I film inside your tent?

We guarantee privacy to our clients, therefore no cameras are permitted inside the testing area without the express permission of clients and the organiser of the event.  

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Who runs the service?

We are an independent, volunteer-run organisation. Click here to see who we are.

We partner with the NZ Drug Foundation, who have provided us with the use of their spectrometer, but we are independent of them. Please do not credit our work solely to NZ Drug Foundation, as many journalists have done.

When referring to our partnership, the correct reference is “KnowYourStuffNZ, operating in partnership with the NZ Drug Foundation.. “  

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Our Service

KnowYourStuffNZ addresses the lack of factual, proven information available to drug users about the substances they intend to take by providing drug checking and drug related information at festivals and events. People have been obtaining substances that they thought were fairly safe, but in reality  have the potential to be something completely different that could harm or kill them.

The service provided by KnowYourStuffNZ includes:

– provision of factual information about drugs and drug use in general, signs of excessive or dependent use to look out for, and information about where to get help for drug related problems.

– testing of substances using reagents and infra-red spectroscopy to discern the content of a sample.

– provision of accurate information about specific substances detected within a sample, including active and toxic dose, expected duration of experience, reasons to not take a substance, what to expect psychologically, how to have a safer experience, and symptoms to look out for that signal danger.

People who use drugs occasionally are just as vulnerable to the dangers of the illicit market as regular users. They risk their substance being either substituted or adulterated with something dangerous. KnowYourStuffNZ specialises in events and festivals, but testing services can be arranged on an individual basis. Please contact us for details.

Our testing methods – Reagents and FT-IR Spectroscopy

KnowYourStuffNZ is made up of dedicated volunteers, and operates independently but with the support of the New Zealand Drug Foundation. The technology and methods we use are helping to develop global best practice in this evolving field. We share our processes and data with overseas testing services such as The Loop in the UK and DanceSafe in the USA. All KnowYourStuffNZ’s volunteers are trained in the use of the technology and interpretation of results.

Initial testing is carried out using reagents such as Marquis and Mandelin, as well as Ehrlich’s for detecting LSD. These reagents are now available in New Zealand through The Hemp Store. We recommend the DanceSafe instructions for interpreting reagent tests.

More detailed testing at events is carried out using a Bruker ALPHA – a Fourier transform infra-red  spectrometer. This uses infra-red light to generate a characteristic absorption spectrum for each sample, allowing the detection of drugs, adulterants, and mixtures.

Together, these methods allow us to identify over 95% of substances that people bring us.

We ensure minimal risk to clients

Accurate information about sample content is key to the success of KnowYourStuffNZ’s harm reduction work. The risk of inaccuracy is reduced in the following ways:

– Testers are trained in use of testing techniques, talked through the operating protocols and given reference copies of operational guidelines and testing protocol

– Testers always work in teams of two to cross-check observed reactions

– Up to date reference charts for reagents are obtained from Dancesafe.  Bunk Police reagent test reference videos may be used as a secondary reference.

– Bruker spectrometer software includes the TICTAC spectral library. This is the most up-to-date and globally-respected psychoactive substance reference available, updated regularly.

Participants are informed about the limitations of the service:

– KnowYourStuffNZ can only provide information about content, not purity

– reagent testing is subjective and can only identify the most obvious ingredient in a sample

– KnowYourStuffNZ cannot identify all harmful impurities

– results are not a guarantee of content but an indication.

– Results are recorded and conveyed in these terms: “This result is consistent with the presence of XYZ” rather than “This is XYZ.”

-Harm reduction information describing the risks associated with identified substance(s) is offered to each client.  This information is sourced from respected drug information databases (Tripsit and PsychonautWiki ). Participants are reminded that the safest option is always to not take a substance.

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Who we are

People

Wendy Allison – Managing Director

Wendy has been active in the field of drug policy since 2007. Educated in social policy and criminology with a focus on drugs at Victoria University, she began drug checking after the prohibition of “party pills” in 2008 when it became apparent that the now-illegal substance BZP was making its way into the illicit drug market after its prohibition. She started checking at music festivals in 2014.

“I grew up in Dargaville and saw first-hand the negative impacts of drug prohibition on people’s lives – problematic use not treated for fear of arrest, criminal records destroying careers, crime peripheral to the illicit market affecting innocent families.  I developed an interest in drug policy and its impact on wider social issues, went to university to study it, and was horrified when I realised that the evidence shows prohibition has created more harms that it has solved.  I strongly believe that we need a new approach, and when my involvement in event organisation showed a way that I could work directly to reduce drug-related harm, I knew I’d found my calling.

I am a mother of an adult child. Being a parent has a way of focusing your view away from judging what our kids should do and refocusing it on what works to keep them safe.  I am heartened to see that parents are often the most vocal in support of our work.  Most children will eventually be faced with decisions about drugs, and I aim to make sure their decisions are made with the best information available.”

Educational qualifications: – Bachelor of Arts (Social Policy and Criminology), Victoria University of Wellington, 2013.

Relevant previous research: B. M. Z. Cohen & W. Allison (2015) Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches: The effect of criminalising a ‘legal high’ in Aotearoa New Zealand. New Zealand Sociology, 30:1.  A cohort study of BZP users’ attitudes and habits pre-and-post prohibition, considering evidence for any ‘displacement effect’.

Relevant experience: Event Organiser (2007-2008), (2014-2017).  Health and Safety Officer for Festival Event (2007-2010).  Providing drug related harm reduction services including drug checking for local community (2008-present), at events (2015-present).

Dr Jez Weston – Deputy Manager

Jez Weston headshort

Jez has a background in materials science, science policy, and the role of evidence in guiding decisions. He works in investment, running research commercialisation funds for the government and as a general partner for a climate-focused venture capital fund.

When he’s not leading KnowYourStuffNZ teams at events, he assists Wendy, leads fund-raising, helps with media, and makes signs from plywood.

Educational qualifications: BEng (Materials Science), University of Bath, 1993; PhD (Welding) University of Cambridge, 1998; Grad Dip Com (Economics), Victoria University of Wellington, 2007.

Finn Boyle – South Island Manager

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Finn started promoting harm reduction information and services because he felt he had to in order to keep his wider community safe.

He has been active in this area for 3 years, providing reagent testing services at events and in the wider community, disseminating information to his peers and helping out with running ‘Festival Safety’ workshops which include education around drug use. He has also been involved in providing care services or safe spaces at small local, and big commercial events. These spaces often deal with the results of uninformed drug use and they help highlight the need for an ambulance at the top of the cliff, which is what Know Your Stuff provides.

“Having a presence at events and being able to engage with people and provide testing & information services is one of the few ways that I have seen behaviour change around drug use that didn’t stem from a negative experience. The feedback has been universally positive and deeply appreciated which makes me know that this work has real value.”

Dr Andrea Knox – Data team lead

Andrea Knox

Andrea has a background in statistics, data science, evaluation and social research. She worked as an independent research and evaluation consultant from 2007 to 2019 and is currently a Senior Research and Data Analyst in government. Andrea has a PhD in Genetics from the University of Cambridge.

Andrea developed the KnowYourStuffNZ data analysis, survey and reporting systems and now leads our small team of volunteer data analysts.

Craig Kenney – Auckland team co-lead

Craig Kenney headshot

When he’s not working with Know Your Stuff, Craig manages a sustainable forestry certification NGO. He has always had a passion for harm reduction and making safe spaces for folks to have fun and be themselves. He worked as a volunteer until eventually taking on the responsibility of co-manager for the Auckland region alongside Gwyneth. His time with KnowYourStuffNZ has been extremely rewarding and has given him yet another sense of purpose in his life. He looks forward to each event that KnowYourStuffNZ attends.

He loves to move and be active and his hobbies reflect this. On week nights he’ll in an aerial circus studio swinging on silks and on weekends he’ll be in some body of water swimming or kayaking. Of course he loves festivals as well. You’ll usually find him cutting shapes on the dance floor.

His formal education consists of a Bachelors in Marketing with a minor in statistics.

Gwyneth Bassett – Auckland team co-lead

Gwyneth headshot

Outside of drug testing Gwyneth is a Software Engineer, currently working full time as a frontend developer. She heard about KnowYourStuffNZ from her brother Fergus and as a long time lover of science and festivals it was a perfect match. In her limited spare time you can find her on the mountain, camping with friends or rollerskating around Auckland. She have a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering with first class honours from the University of Auckland.

Fergus Bassett – Wellington team lead

Fergus has been with KnowYourStuffNZ for three years, starting as a volunteer at festivals and more recently helping manage the Auckland and now Wellington regions. His background is in data science and programming. In his spare time he enjoys playing music, board games and festivals with friends.

Educational qualifications: Bachelor of Engineering in Engineering Science with first class honours from the University of Auckland, Operations Research specialisation.

Anna Spurdle – Christchurch team co-lead

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Anna has seen firsthand in her professional and personal life the harm caused by uninformed and misinformed drug use. She saw the value in the work we do while volunteering at festivals before taking on the role of Christchurch lead as the organisation expanded. We set up a Christchurch team in 2020 to work on having more of a presence in the City and wider region. She has a Bachelor of Biomedical Science and a Masters of Health Sciences along with previous experience in laboratory roles to give her a foundation of relevant knowledge. In her spare time, you will find her tending her garden, skating, swinging poi and being in nature.

Yvonne Booysen – Media and Partnerships leadYvonne headshot

Yvonne has a background in chemistry and geology, and currently works as a geospatial analyst/developer. She became interested in harm reduction when she discovered KnowYourStuffNZ about three years ago and has been involved ever since, both as an event lead in the field and behind the scenes managing relationships with media and key partners.

Rhiannon Davies – Communications team lead 

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Rhiannon’s been a communications and engagement professional for 15 years.

She got interested in KnowYourStuffNZ after studying sociolinguistics. She saw a chance to directly work language into effective harm reduction messaging that works through empowerment, transparency and evidence.

When she’s not cursing over content, Rhiannon can be found pottering in her garden, collecting memes, playing with her cat Monster, or making something out of one of Wendy’s sheeps’ fleeces.

Joe Thompson – Volunteer lead

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With experience in grassroots sustainability, social enterprise, and volunteer coordination, Joe chooses to spend my time and energy on projects which uplift the values of Reciprocity, Authenticity, and Positive Change.

As National Volunteer Coordinator for Know Your Stuff NZ, Joe has introduced new systems, processes, and support for the volunteers who form our community, as well as assisting the transition to a more sustainable organisational model that has scaled up with growth.

His other kaupapa include composting and soil, kai rescue and community, poetry and creative expression.

Partners

New Zealand Drug Foundation

Drug Foundation B&W

The NZ Drug Foundation is an NGO driven by the vision of an Aotearoa free from Drug Harm. They focus on providing information services, policy advice and lobbying for drug law reform.

NZ Drug Foundation has been working with KnowYourStuff NZ to promote drug checking as harm reduction, providing support through purchase of a spectrometer and logisitical help, and leading advocacy initiatives.

High AlertHigh Alert logo

High Alert is New Zealand’s early warning system about dangerous drugs. High Alert is run by the Drug Information and Alerts Aotearoa New Zealand (DIANZ) who are supported by a network of health professionals and social services (both Government and Non-Government Organisations).