KnowYourStuffNZ’s summer media coverage

The media gets plenty of stick but honestly, we’ve had pretty good coverage this summer (and lots of it). It’s mostly been reasonable, journalists have been sticking to the facts, and willing to make corrections when errors slip in.

Two areas did stand out where the media (and other public messages) could be better. The first was the coverage around KnowYourStuffNZ’s finding of Fentanyl. Yes, it’s scary stuff and we strongly recommend people do not take it. However, NZ is not in the same situation as the USA, where Fentanyl and other opioids are killing tens of thousands each year. Some of the media stories wanted to push a sensationalist epidemic line.  That’s not helpful. What keeps people safe is clear and honest reporting.

The second area was police and district health boards putting out poorly written warnings about dangerous drugs. The initial warnings about n-ethylpentylone in Christchurch contained no useful information. Warnings about dangerous drugs need to cover:

  • what the drug is thought to be
  • how to identify it
  • what the effects are
  • and how to stay safe

To be fair, the DHB and police did pick up on some of the language that KnowYourStuff uses and the follow-up messages were much more useful. However, when you’ve got thirteen people in hospital, its pretty important to get your warnings right. We would like to see consistent and accurate messaging, and collaboration between agencies on the content of drug alerts.

Radio NZ, 21 January: Festival tent testing fake highs

Newshub, 2 February: MDMA buyers at festivals getting ‘seedy’, more potent alternative

Radio Live, 4 February: Legalise All Drugs? Ross Bell & Wendy Allison

Newstalk ZB, 27 February: 15-year-old amongst those affected by faulty ecstasy

TVNZ, 27 February: ‘No useful information’ – drug-checking company says DHB should give specifics of ecstasy batch that put users in hospital

Vice, 27 February: Possible Bad Batch of NZ Ecstasy Hospitalises Thirteen

Stuff, 9 March: Deadly new Wellington drug ring busted as police seize cash, cars, and drugs

Radio NZ, 9 March: Lately with Karyn Hay

Vice, 14 March: Here’s What Was In the Bad Batch of MDMA That Put 13 Kiwis in Hospital

Newstalk ZB, 15 March: Calls for early warning system over potentially harmful drugs

NZ Drug Foundation, 19 March: Let’s take the ambulance to the top of the cliff

Stuff, 19 March: On-site drug testing at Homegrown a no-go despite faux-ecstasy doing the rounds

Metro News, 19 March: Why New Zealand festivals can’t deal to the drug problem

Radio NZ, 20 March: Homegrown festival warned of dangerous fake ecstasy drug

Vice, 21 March: Deadly Opiate Fentanyl Found Cut With Drugs at NZ Festivals

Public Address, 21 March: Fentanyl: it’s here

Radio Live, 21 March: Why the Misuse of Drugs Act has been called ‘out of date’

TVNZ, 21 March: Super-strong opiate Fentanyl detected in New Zealand for the first time

Radio NZ, 21 March: More fentanyl is coming into NZ, and authorities are worried

NZ Herald, 21 March: Deadly opiate fentanyl found at a Kiwi festival

TVNZ, 21 March: First ever fentanyl detection in NZ’s illicit drug market sparks calls for legal drug testing

NZ Herald, 22 March: Helen Clark backs festival drug-testing and injecting rooms

TVNZ, 22 March: Push to legalise recreational drug testing as deadly Fentanyl detected in NZ’s drug market

The Spinoff, 22 March: Cheat Sheet: the world’s most dangerous drug arrives in New Zealand

NZDF Matters of Substance, March: Keeping safe under summer skies

Viva La Hardcore, 3 April: Know Your Stuff; Chatting about Drugs and Drug Testing

Stuff, 4 April: Fentanyl linked to 11 deaths in New Zealand since 2011

Salient, 9 April: The New Drug on the Block

NewsWire, 15 April: Deadly drug fentanyl prompts appeal for users to get $8.50 test

Yeah, that’s lots of coverage.

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

KnowYourStuffNZ media coverage for the last four weeks

It’s the middle of festival season and the media interest in our work has been intense. Here’s some of the coverage from that.

Also, we’re totally jazzed that the Prime Minister is a) hapū and b) “hugely supportive” of our work.

NZ Herald, 28 December: Covert drug testing will again be carried out at festivals this summer

NZ Herald, 28 December: Concert goers warned: Sinister substances being added to NZ drugs

Stuff, 4 January: Summer of love tinged with danger as MDMA reaches new peaks at NZ festivals

Radio Live, 4 January: Not-for-profit takes ‘agnostic approach’ to festival drug use

Radio NZ, 9 January: Drugs tested at festivals found to be ‘much more potent’

The Spinoff, 10 January: There’s some strong ecstasy going around, so we need to make pill testing easy

95bFM, 11 January: Mikey Havoc interviews Wendy Allison, director of KnowYourStuffNZ

SciBlogs, 17 January: Recreational drugs and the technology of pill testing

SciBlogs, 18 January: The psychology of pill testing

95bFM, 18 January: Know what drugs you’re really taking this summer

Radio NZ, 21 January: Simon Morton interviews Dr Jez Weston, volunteer with KnowYourStuffNZ for Up This Way

We’ll be at more events for the rest of the summer.

Apparently our results are news!

When we published the final results from our testing data on Sunday, we were not expecting much media interest. After all, the numbers haven’t changed that much since July, when we first published our preliminary results. However, we did attract some attention. Here is a roundup:

VICE: These are the drugs appearing at New Zealand festivals. A nice summary of the results and associated concerns and our pick of the bunch for accuracy. They spoke with us at length before publishing this.

Stuff: Drug tests at festivals find dangerous new varieties posing as well known pills. Considerably better than the average Stuff article and bonus points for consulting both us and the NZ Drug Foundation.

95bFM: They know what you took last summer. Bcast in which we discuss our findings and our concerns about emerging substances for the upcoming festival season. Short but effective, and not sensationalist.

Newshub: Kiwi MDMA and LSD users being conned – study. Newshub, I am disappoint. Not only is KYSNZ a service not a study, they ripped all their info straight off our website without talking to us at all, and didn’t consult us before using one of our charts.

They also state that people are buying their drugs at the events where they are tested, from evil drug dealers out to dupe people for a fast buck. This may well happen sometimes but we do not collect information about where people obtain their samples, so this assumption is pure conjecture. Anecdotally, we think it’s more likely that many people obtain their drugs prior to entering an event, a process immortalised in the 90s by UK band Pulp as Sorted for Es and whizz (or bath salts and amphetamine as the case may be).

It appears that none of the media so far has cottoned on to one of the most important points – that when confronted with the news that their sample isn’t what they think it is, over half of people then choose not to take it. I guess that’s not dramatic enough…

I suggest at least talking to us before publishing articles about our work. It really does make for better articles.

Even the PM would support legal drug checking

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Bill English, is socially conservative. Yet when asked if he thought drug checking at festivals was a good idea, he said “I suppose it is – as long as it’s legal.”

“It means people can see what they’re taking is dangerous.”


“People who are taking drugs… I’m sure they understand what’s legal and what isn’t and the testing has to be as well.”


So let’s get on with bringing our 42-year-old drug laws into line with current policy and the views of those who make it.

Link to video

Russell Brown nails it again

Russell has been a major supporter of our work from the start, and was a catalyst in getting traction for the issue both politically and in the media.  He’s written an article for NZ Drug Foundation’s Matters of Substance about drug checking, and it’s well worth the read.

What I’d like to see,” says Allison, “is for the law to get out of the way of this – specifically, a change to section 12 to make an exception for harm-reduction practices. It’s a small change to the Act. It’s not condoning drugs, it’s not legalising – what it’s doing is decriminalising organisers who get us in.”

“The only solution ultimately will be an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act,” agrees Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.