Survey of KYSNZ clients shows that users of drug checking services take harm reduction advice on board

by Andrea Knox, Evaluation Consultant

KnowYourStuffNZ is driven by evidence. For the last few years we’ve been recording our drug checking results, reporting those results publicly, and using them to improve our processes and advocacy.

But while we have a lot of evidence about the substances we find and the decisions people make about those substances, we don’t have a lot of data about who we’re reaching. What kinds of people use our services, how do they feel about it, and what experiences have they had with drugs previously?

n-ethylpentylone

This year, to answer those questions, we surveyed people while they queued for testing. Many thanks to our super-smart volunteer who suggested this approach!

We ran a 10-question survey on a tablet using SurveyAnyplace (which has an offline mode that ran seamlessly, even way out the back of wherethefuckarewe). We also developed what we called a “stories box”, into which people could post handwritten descriptions of their experiences with drugs and drug checking. Both activities were optional and anonymous.

What did we find out? You can see our full report on the Our Results page . Here are some key points.

  • The people we reach are young, but not as young as you might assume. Half were under 25, half over 25, and one in 20 were 45 or older.
  • We are reaching new people – 82% of our clients saw us for the first time this year.
  • We are reaching people who have no prior experience with drug health or harm reduction services – 89% said that KnowYourStuffNZ was their first contact with such a service.
  • A worryingly high proportion of people – 75% of our clients, have had experiences with taking drugs that were not what they were supposed to be. Experiences range from unpleasant: “stayed awake to long”, to very serious: “Ambulance had to be called”.
  • We seem to be making a longer term difference to how people approach drugs. 87% of people who had previously used our services said that their approach to taking drugs had changed as a result. People said that they were more motivated to test drugs and less willing to take risks. Interestingly, people didn’t say that they were unaware of drug-associated risks before seeing us. No-one said: I just didn’t know drugs could be so risky! Their comments show that they were already aware of risk, but thought they had to accept this when choosing to take drugs. KnowYourStuffNZ has demonstrated that risks can be mitigated and don’t have to be accepted.
  • There is a great deal of support for drug checking among the people who use our services. We already knew that because they tell us this when we meet them, but it was lovely to see so many positive comments about our work and calling for greater support of drug checking in New Zealand.
  • And then there was this comment, which moved KnowYourStuffNZ’s Managing Director to tears and made us realise that all the hard work was worth it: “You saved someone’s life tonight”.
KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded entirely by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.

Mid-season update – what drugs are at festivals this summer

This season, much like last summer, has seen more n-ethylpentylone and more high dose MDMA.

N-ethylpentylone has become the main adulterant in MDMA and our main substance of concern. N-ethylpentylone is in the cathinone family of drugs, sometimes referred to as “bath salts.” In previous years we’ve seen all sorts of different substances sold as MDMA. This year vast majority of substitutions have been only n-ethylpentylone, a drug that we’ve heard called “a shit time for a long time.”

If a sample is presumed to be MDMA but tests show that it’s not, it is most likely n-ethylpentylone. A new development has been a number of samples of both pressed pills and crystal which contain MDMA mixed with n-ethylpentylone, a combination which led to us issuing an alert just after New Year about blue crown pills. These mixtures will appear to be MDMA in a reagent test, but could lead to unexpected consequences including anxiety, heart palpitations, and insomnia. N-ethylpentylone has been implicated in two deaths overseas and numerous mass hospitalisations, including in New Zealand. You can read more about n-ethylpentylone on our website.

We have also seen a continuation of the pressed pills containing 2-3 doses of MDMA. Pink Porsches, Green Guccis, Yellow Rolexes, and Blue Louis Vuitton pills are all still around, and should be approached with extreme caution. We also have some evidence that these pills are now being copied. Copycat pills could contain anything, including toothpaste, so we recommend testing even with a ‘known’ press. New high-dose pills we have tested include a pink pill shaped like a Canadian maple leaf that is estimated to contain 3 standard doses of MDMA. Even taking less than a whole pill has resulted in people needing medical attention this summer, so treat these with caution.

There is also a lot of supposedly MDMA crystal around that tests as MDMA. Care should be taken with this – even when a substance is what you are hoping for, it’s still not “safe”. Measuring doses by eye is a particularly unsafe practice in the current climate, as is snorting.

We recommend approaching even tested substances with extreme caution. Start small – half or less than the dose you would normally take – and start slow – wait at least an hour to gauge the effects before considering  having more. We also recommend against snorting these substances. It’s damaging to your nose, the effects will wear off faster, and you may be be tempted to take more. It’s more harmful and more expensive, so if you are taking anything, oral is the safer route.

This summer we have also been asked by event medics to let people know that they shouldn’t be afraid to seek them out if they do get into difficulties. The medics want you to know they are there to help, and they will do it in confidence. If you are at all concerned about your wellbeing at an event, please go see them.

50227204_10156541038103347_614996745071362048_o (3)

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