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.

Media coverage for January

This summer is our busiest season yet, with the Police Minister Stuart Nash supporting drug checking and our New Year alert about n-ethyl pentylone reaching 85,000 people. Of course, that kicked off quite a bit of media coverage:

Newshub, 2 January: Drug testing uncovers more laced pills at music festival
Radio NZ, 2 January: Testing shows MDMA pills laced with bath salts
Radio NZ, 3 January: Summer festival drugs ‘designed to baffle tests
Sky News Australia, 3 January: NZ doctor lauds effective drug testing program
Radio NZ, 3 January: No room for vagueness in drug testing at music festivals
Gisbourne Herald, 3 January: Minister backs festival drug tests
Sydney Morning Herald, 4 January: What is pill testing?
Stuff, 4 January: Editorial: It’s high time for drug testing
MSN, 7 January: New Zealand unveils plans to have pill testing at ALL music festivals – as Australia refuses to discuss the idea despite five overdose deaths since September
Stuff, 8 January: Dr Cathy Stephenson: Telling your kids to stay away from drugs can backfire
Vice, 10 January: Why New Zealand Needs Legal Drug Testing at its Summer Festivals
The Big Smoke, 14 January: Pill testing saves lives, it doesn’t create addicts
Insights, 16 January: What you should know about pill-testing
95bfm, 19 January: Safe Drug Testing w/ Know Your Stuff
Newshub, 22 January: Poll: Do you think testing drugs at summer festivals should be publicly funded?
Science Media Centre NZ, 25 January: Festival drug testing – Expert Reaction
Stuff, 25 January: Free drug testing in spotlight as festival season kicks off
Māori Television, 25 January: What’s really in that pill? The festival drug testing debate
NZ Herald, 28 January: Lee Suckling: Are music festivals unsafe?

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

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.