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:
- Do nothing and accept deaths as a side effect of drug use
- Police drugs at events to try to prevent use
- 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 four 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 7 events in the 2017/18 season and 8 events in the 2016/2017 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.