Check in with your drug use this festival season: FUN or dysFUNctional?

Our new mascot Lil Pinger’s been hitting the bottle pretty hard and we think it’s time for an intervention.  She’s been neglecting her grass-eating and her social gambolling. All the dirt piles she used to be passionate about climbing remain woefully un-bounced upon. It’s just “bottle, bottle, bottle” with her lately. 

It’s important to recognise how easily ‘recreational’ drug use can turn into ‘problematic’ drug use. A good rule of thumb is asking whether your drug use has negatively impacted other areas of your life – particularly your physical or mental health, your relationships, or your financial stability and employment. Here are some questions you can ask to check in with yourself about your drug use

  • Do you know what’s in your drugs, and which other substances are dangerous to mix them with (including alcohol and prescription medications)?
  • Can you get through the week without using drugs? Do you use drugs as a way to cope with problems in your life?
  • Do you feel like you need drugs for parties or other social situations?
  • Is it easy for you to take significant breaks from drug use? If drugs are available during these breaks, how easy do you find it to turn them down?
  • Do you feel badly or guilty about your drug use? 
  • Has your drug use created problems between you and your partner, friends or family? 
  • Have you been in trouble at work, had to take time off, or lost a job because of drug use?
  • Has your drug use contributed to a drop in taking care of yourself, e.g. have personal hygiene, motivation, sociability or mental health slipped as a consequence of using?
  • Have you been in fights, personal danger, or had times you don’t remember things when under the influence of drugs? 
  • Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms or had medical problems as a result of your drug use (e.g. memory loss, convulsions, psychological distress, hospitalisation etc.)?

Festival season is fun and we know that for a lot of you recreational drugs will be involved. Wherever possible we’ll be there to check your gear and help out with friendly advice but remember, it’s all fun and games until it begins to impact your life, well-being and relationships. Harm reduction is about looking after yourself and each other. Take time to check in with yourself and your friends as we head into festival season, and if you feel you may be slipping into difficult territory reach out to loved ones or your GP. There are also great resources for your next steps available here and here.

KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.

9 facts to dispel myths about drug checking

There has been plenty of misinformation going around about drug checking in the last week. To counter that, here are some facts:

Fact 1. We do not hand drugs back to people after testing.  Testing requires a tiny amount of the substance. It is not handled by the tester at all. The person intending to take a drug places a tiny amount of their drug on the spectrometer and it is destroyed in the process of testing.

Fact 2. We never tell people their drugs are safe. The first thing we say to people is that the safest drug use is not to use drugs at all. Then we have a discussion with each person about the risks of the substance they plan to take. Drug checking facilities provide specific education about the risks of drug use.

Fact 3. The service is not publicly funded. It runs entirely on donations. KnowYourStuffNZ is not seeking public funding. The proposed law change would allow the service to be funded by event ticket sales.

Fact 4. Many people do have their drugs tested when it’s made available to them. We did 800 tests last summer. That is 16x more than our first year.

Fact 5.  Our data this year shows that 62% of people will choose not to take their drugs if it tests for something other than what they thought it was.

Fact 6.  In New Zealand there are over 70 different types of substances being sold as 3-4 types of illegal drugs.

Fact 7. Some of these substances are life threatening and/or much stronger than the substance that people think they are buying. This can cause them to require medical assistance or even to be hospitalised. We can identify these adulterants and excessive doses of known substances.

Fact 8. This isn’t just about testing drugs to reduce harm. This is about collecting data to pass on to medics so that they know what they are dealing with and have a better chance of treating any medical issues correctly.

Fact 9. For many people who use drugs, going to a drug checking tent will be the first time they have had a respectful and informed conversation about the risks. We provide non-judgemental advice and information to help people be safer. That results in people making smarter, more informed decisions about drug use both at events and outside those events.

Our work over five years demonstrates that drug checking reduces harm. We would like to get on with reducing harm. Replacing myths with facts will help.

Know Your Stuff-58
KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.

Another near miss with multiple hospitalisations

At KnowYourStuffNZ we believe that people should not risk death on a night out.

With four people hospitalised after the Listen In Auckland event we’ve had another near-miss. We’re relieved that the people affected are now stable, but this could have been much worse. What scares us is that this is going to keep on happening unless we take an effective approach to reducing the harm from drug use. We’ve been demonstrating that approach for the past five years – if someone can test a substance before taking it then they can avoid the most dangerous drugs. If that person does choose to take a substance after testing, we advise them about how to reduce the risk of doing so. That might mean taking less, waiting before taking more, avoiding mixing with alcohol, knowing  what to expect, and knowing when and how to seek help if they get into difficulty.

We were not at Listen In so we don’t know what the four hospitalised people took, nor do the people themselves, nor do the medics on the front-line of keeping people safe. We are not going to speculate what those people might have taken, but we are concerned for this coming summer about three big risks: people taking too much MDMA, people taking cathinones (“bath salts”), and people taking new and unknown substances.

Let’s clear up some of the misconceptions that we’ve heard in the last few days:

  • KYSNZ always advise that the safest approach is not to take drugs. That’s literally the first thing that we say to our clients.
  • We never describe a substance as “safe”. All drug use has risks. We discuss those risks with our clients. That conversation is informed by our testing.
  • We do not return the substance that we use for testing. The small amount used is destroyed as part of testing.
  • We are not the Government. We are not the Police. We are not funded by tax-payers. We are a volunteer group who run entirely off donations.

You can find out more about our techniques and operations in our FAQ.

Could we have stopped four people going to hospital on Friday night? That’s why we go to events, to reduce the chance of this happening. We know that what we do changes people’s behaviour, reducing the risk of drug-related harm.

We were not at Listen In because, in part, of the legal risk to the organisers. Where we go depends upon the organisers and whether they are willing to take a legal risk to have us at their event. RFA Auckland Stadiums are correct to say that having testing at their events would place them “in a very difficult legal position”.

We want the legal grey area about drug checking to be clarified so that we can help people stay safe at every large event this summer.

We want this law clarification to happen before someone dies.

Darroch Ball thinks we shouldn’t save people’s lives

KnowYourStuffNZ has been carrying out drug checking at festivals for five years. In that time, we have helped thousands of festival-goers to make safer and more informed decisions. We help people avoid the most dangerous drugs and, if they choose to use a substance, we help them to be safer. We have had huge support from punters, festival organisers, medics, Police, MPs from both sides of Parliament, three Prime Ministers, and the Minister of Police Stuart Nash.

Seemingly the only person who doesn’t like us is Darroch Ball. He’s the Law and Order Spokesperson from New Zealand First. Yeah, we’d never heard of him either until he decided to get in our way. He’s blocking changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act that would support a national rollout of drug checking.

Darroch said that “We’re being very reactionary if we think that it’s ok to start saving lives or to start protecting people”.

Police minister’s plan to legalise pill testing at summer festivals derailed as NZ First says it encourages drug use

Darroch thinks that people should suffer if they break the law, even if that means they die from taking a pill. Darroch thinks his moral stance is more important than kids’ lives.

Seriously, we’re having an argument about whether we should save people’s lives or not. What the hell, Darroch?

Darroch thinks that drug checking doesn’t work, ignoring twenty years of experience in Europe and five years of our work in New Zealand. That evidence is clear – drug checking reduces risky behaviour and the harm from drug use. 

Darroch thinks that drug checking normalises and condones drug taking. That horse has already bolted, with 80% of young New Zealanders admitting to trying illegal substances. There is also no evidence from studies over the last twenty years to suggest that drug checking leads to increases in drug use. We’ve told Darroch this, but he ignores the evidence and continues to push this line.

Currently the law around drug checking is unclear. That’s stopping us from providing our service at New Zealand’s largest festivals. We want that law clarified, as does Stuart Nash. The blockage for that legal change isn’t New Zealand First. The blockage is Darroch Ball.

High-dose MDMA pills containing two or three times the standard dose have killed a number of young people in the UK and Australia. KnowYourStuffNZ’s data shows that these pills are available in New Zealand as well. It is only a matter of time before one of Aotearoa’s young people dies. When that happens, Darroch Ball will have blood on his hands.

Drug checking – beyond the festival season

For some time now, KnowYourStuff NZ and the NZ Drug Foundation have been checking drugs at music festivals and handing out potentially lifesaving advice.

But festivals are mainly a summer event, and we all know that drug-taking is not limited to summer or fesitvals. So in the interests of public safety, we’re extending a trial of our drug checking service to include the winter months in Wellington CBD.

Starting Thursday 18 July, we’ll be offering discreet, confidential and free drug checking once a month at the Drug Foundation office in Wellington. We hope that in time we can run the service all year round, from multiple locations across New Zealand.

Volunteers from KnowYourStuffNZ and the Drug Foundation use a combination of infrared technology and reagent testing, which allows them to identify over 95 percent of substances.

We’re proud of our success rate: A client survey by KnowYourStuffNZ  showed that most people taking drugs understand the risks and will take them anyway, but three years of data consistently shows that when confronted with a test result that reveals their substance is not what they thought, many people will choose not to take it.

Drug checking is also a unique opportunity for volunteers to offer tailored harm reduction advice, and potentially get people thinking more actively about their drug use.

Participants are always reminded that the safest option is to not take a substance.

Check our website for some great news, results and other information. Or take a look at the Drug Foundation’s website for a section on keeping safe.

  • The first service begins on Thursday 18 July.  Come up to level 4, 265 Wakefield St, from 5.30 – 7.30pm.

drug checking next thurs

KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.