KnowYourStuffNZ ran a survey of clients between 1 December 2020 and 31 March 2021, at 18 of the 27 events and pop-up clinics that KnowYourStuff ran in 2020-21.
Clients at these events were asked to complete an optional survey while they waited for testing. The survey asked about their experiences with drug-related harm, KnowYourStuffNZ, and other harm reduction services.
We received 683 responses to the survey.
- 562 (82%) were from festival attendees
- 60 (9%) were from people attending KnowYourStuffNZ pop-up clinics in city centres
- 61 (9%) were from student event attendees.
KnowYourStuffNZ influences longer term behaviour changes. People become less likely to mix drugs and more likely to seek testing and take a smaller amount of a substance
We know that drug checking services influence people’s decisions about whether to take a particular substance. People are much less likely to take a substance when testing shows it is not what they thought it was.
Read the 2020-2021 testing report to see what substances were found
We also want to know if KnowYourStuffNZ services influence people’s drug-related behaviours outside the events we test at. We provide extensive harm reduction advice alongside pill testing, aiming to educate people about safer approaches to drugs.
We would expect to see changes in people’s longer term behaviours if this advice is effective.
We asked the 169 respondents who had visited KnowYourStuffNZ before if they agreed or disagreed with four statements about changes in their drug-related behaviours.
- 95% agreed with the statement: “As a result of my previous visit/s to KnowYourStuffNZ, I am now more likely to get my drugs tested before taking them”.
- 51% agreed with the statement: “As a result of my previous visit/s to KnowYourStuffNZ, I am now less likely to mix drugs”.
- 45% agreed with the statement: “As a result of my previous visit/s to KnowYourStuffNZ, when I take drugs, I am now more likely to take a smaller amount”.
- 20% agreed with the statement: “As a result of my previous visit/s to KnowYourStuffNZ, I now take drugs less often”.
We analysed associations between age and the responses to these questions to test the theory that age may influence people’s responses to harm reduction advice. We found no significant associations.
We gathered more information on how KnowYourStuffNZ has influenced people’s behaviours via the Stories Box (see ‘How we collected these results’ section). Respondents wrote about the value of KnowYourStuffNZ’s testing service and dangerous drug alerts, and how they now take more harm reduction precautions.
Yes. I’ve used reagent testing at a previous festival, provided by Know Your Stuff. I found out that my substances where (sic) likely what I expected them to be. The experience gave me a chance to talk about dangerous substances around at the time, & made me think more carefully about ways I could be safer when taking drugs (testing, taking low doses the first time, being wary of mixing, etc).
I love the education, and the warnings. It’s made me want to test everything I get.
Yes. I really only want to take drugs that have been tested now. It makes the experience much better knowing what it is.
More than three quarters of KnowYourStuffNZ clients have had past experiences with drugs that were not what they were thought to be.
76% of respondents have had an experience where a drug they took was not what they thought it was. This is similar to what we’ve found in previous years.
View previous survey results
We gathered some descriptions of people’s experiences with taking drugs that were not what they were supposed to be via the Stories Box (see ‘How we collected these results’).
Respondents described a variety of unpleasant experiences:
I took what was supposed to be acid but clearly wasn’t. This was at a festival & I had a unpleasant & long trip with a high energy highly anxious state & a more mellow pleasant state. The trip would jump between the two states constantly & unpredictably, causing a great deal of anxiety.
Mistaken ketamine for speed, I would know what is on the other side of the black hole of the universe!
When I was 19 I took what I thought was MDMA … I presumed it would be all g. I couldn’t sleep for the next 30ish hours would not recomend (sic).
One person described taking a harm reduction-based approach that had helped them to mitigate the risks of unknown drugs:
Often. Did a tiny bit, had suspicions, tested then re-evaluated with more context.
KnowYourStuffNZ’s drug checking detected a much higher proportion of eutylone (a dangerous cathinone) this season than had been present in previous years. This increase was accompanied by reports from users of adverse reactions, some of which were severe. Here are just a few of the messages that people sent to us.
Two fifths of respondents were under 25 and just over half were 25-44 years old
- 680 survey respondents indicated their age.
- 261 (38%) were under 25
- 371 (55%) were aged between 25 and 44
- 48 (7%) were 45 or older.
Over three quarters of respondents were employed or self-employed
We asked respondents what best described their situation over the last year: employed or self-employed (including full or part-time), studying, or neither employed nor studying.
671 people answered.
- 518 (77%) were employed or self-employed
- 137 (20%) were studying
- only 16 (2%) had not been employed or studying.
Clients at student events were younger and more likely to be students
At student events, we reached a higher proportion of clients who were under 25 and had been studying over the last year.
67% of respondents at student events were under 25, as compared to 47% at pop-up clinics and 34% at festivals.
A chi square test of independence showed that the age difference between respondents at student events and festivals was statistically significant (X2(1, N =620) = 23.9, p-value = 9.918 x 10-7).
The age difference between respondents at student events and pop-up clinics was also statistically significant, but less strongly so (X2(1, N = 121) = 4.4, p-value = .0358).
As expected, respondents at student events were much more likely to be students, with 62% reporting that they had been studying over the last year, as compared to 20% at pop-up clinics and 16% at festivals. This result is statistically significant (X2(2, 671) = 67.0, p-value = 2.83 x 10-15).
Social media and event information are becoming more important sources of publicity about where KnowYourStuff NZ is present
Attendees at festivals and events (but not static clinics or student parties) were asked how they had found out that KYSNZ was present. They could select multiple options if they had heard about it through more than one channel.
We are seeing a rise in the importance of social media and event information. In 2020-21, 26% said they found out through social media (compared to 10% in 2019-20) and 24% said they found out through event information (compared to 14% in 2019-20). As in previous years, word of mouth and seeing the tent were the most commonly selected responses.
This corresponds with KnowYourStuffNZ’s increased social media presence and the legalisation of drug checking. The change in legislation allowed events to publicly acknowledge KnowYourStuffNZ’s presence without fear of prosecution. The large increase in demand that we saw for KnowYourStuffNZ services this year may be partially due to more effective publicity.
Most KnowYourStuffNZ clients have not previously used drug health or harm reduction services
Contact with KnowYourStuffNZ is the first time many clients have accessed any type of drug health or harm reduction service.
KnowYourStuffNZ clients are not the target demographic for other drug harm reduction services in New Zealand (such as the needle exchange and rehabilitation and addiction services), but they still need practical harm reduction advice.
- 75% of survey respondents said that this was their first time visiting KnowYourStuffNZ.
- 90% had not accessed other drug checking or drug health services before (such as the needle exchange, community alcohol and drug services, or drug checking services overseas).
Survey respondents expressed support for KnowYourStuffNZ and made some suggestions for improvements to the service
The final survey question asked for any other comments or suggestions about KnowYourStuffNZ or pill testing in New Zealand. We received 269 comments.
The demand for KnowYourStuffNZ’s service exceeds supply
A common view was that there is a lack of funding for KnowYourStuffNZ to be able to provide more testing services. One person stated that
‘you guys [KnowYourStuffNZ] are doing such an amazing job at reducing harm for people who use drugs in New Zealand, I wish you had more funding so that you could put your mahi to even better use.’
Various others said that the service was ‘essential’, ‘incredibly valuable’ ‘crucial’ and ‘should be government funded’.
The vast majority of comments were extremely positive. However, one recurring theme concerned the wait time for drug checking service.
The wait time was described by one participant as ‘simply ridiculous’. Others commented on the need to ‘increase the capacity of testing available’ and have ‘more testing facilities’.
As one person put it:
‘wait times are really long! To the extent people are not able to get their drugs tested. More people, test kits and funding needed’.
This indicates that the demand for the KnowYourStuffNZ service exceeds supply and that at least some clients understand that this is due to a lack of resources to grow drug checking services.
KnowYourStuffNZ could increase the awareness of services
Participants suggested that the services provided by KnowYourStuffNZ could have a ‘wider reach’ and be ‘more accessible’. Other comments were about increasing the general public awareness of drug harm reduction.
A recurrent theme was the importance of being able to have an open conversation around drug use and harm reduction.
Commenting on the significance of having drug testing available, participants stated that the service ‘helps kiwis make informed and educated decisions about their choices’. This view was echoed by other participants, one of whom said:
‘I think you guys are doing an awesome job! Checking, but also educating and beginning the conversation around drugs. So many people do drugs and there is such a taboo with it’.
In a similar vein, another person stated that the service ‘allows people to make informed decisions and fosters a healthy discussion around drug use and culture’.
And another stated that KnowYourStuffNZ drug testing ‘stopped me from taking bath salts that I thought was MDMA’.
How we collected these results
The survey was developed, cognitively tested, and then administered on KnowYourStuffNZ tablets using Survey Anyplace. Clients were asked to complete the survey while they waited for testing.
The survey was anonymous and optional and clients’ responses were not linked to the results of their testing. If clients had already completed the survey at an event within the last year, they were asked not to complete the survey again, so as to reduce the chance of duplication within the survey sample.
As a supplement to the survey, we created a “stories box” to collect qualitative data on clients’ experiences with substances that weren’t what they were supposed to be, and ways in which their approaches to taking drugs may have changed due to previous visits to KnowYourStuffNZ.
These questions were asked on paper, pens were supplied, and clients were asked to place their responses into a box. 12 responses were received.
Copies of the survey questionnaire and stories box questions can be supplied on request.
Limitations of this analysis
The survey findings should be read with the following caveats in mind.
The events we visited in 2020-2021 were different to the events visited in previous years, limiting comparability between years.
The KnowYourStuffNZ client survey has been running for three years. To some extent we can make comparisons between years. However, bear in mind that:
- Differences in the events that KnowYourStuff attends may influence the demographics of survey respondents. Demographic shifts in survey respondents do not represent demographic shifts among drug users.
- Demographic shifts among respondents may influence responses to other questions too. For example, older clients (who may have been using drugs for longer) have had more opportunities to experience situations where the drugs they took were not what they thought they were.
Not all KnowYourStuffNZ clients completed the survey, so there is some sampling error
The survey was available to clients at 18 of the 27 events that KYSNZ attended in 2020-21. However, not all clients completed the survey. They may have declined to participate or they may not have been offered the survey (for example, when KnowYourStuffNZ volunteers were too busy, or when there was no queue of clients waiting for testing).
So there is a proportion of coverage error and the sample of clients that were surveyed is:
- not random
- only representative of those who were at events where the survey was available
- probably biased towards clients who waited in a queue for testing.
We don’t know how these biases may affect aggregate findings from the survey. This caveat should be considered when interpreting the results.
This report was compiled by Andrea Knox and Abigail Freeland.
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