Drug checking is effective at reducing drug use as it can change the minds of people already committed to using drugs. Providing information to users allows them to make informed choices about the substance they take, including whether or not to take the drugs at all. Drug checking works in the same way that quality control and labelling works to reduce harm from other consumer products.
KnowYourStuffNZ focuses on reducing harm and does not accept death as an acceptable consequence for breaking drug laws. We reduce risk of death from drug use by ensuring people know what substance they have and the risks associated with it so they can make an informed choice, rather than taking a gamble with drugs and therefore their lives.
Pragmatism over judgement
KnowYourStuffNZ takes a pragmatic approach to drug use and does not take a moral stance. Our work is based on evidence and current best practice. We acknowledge that our clients are adults and will make choices for themselves based on their own values and morals – our aim is to ensure that those choices are made with the best possible information.
(We cannot and do not provide services to under-18s.)
The risks associated with drug use range from very minor (caffeine) to potentially deadly (opiates). Knowing and understanding the risk of taking a drug is only possible when you know which drug you are taking. Many of the drugs used at events (such as MDMA and LSD) are lower risk than others , but the adulterants and substitutes found in the illegal market often carry a much higher risk, which can be increased when unknowingly mixed with other substances like alcohol .
Over the years we have found that when we tell people that their drug of choice is either not what they thought it was, or contains additional substances to what they thought it was, half will then actively choose not to take it.
Drug checking reduces potential harms
When people choose not to take drugs that are not what they were expecting, this demonstrates that potential harm can and is being averted by this method. The amount of people refusing to take their drugs after they were tested and proved to be a different substance from what they thought is a fair indication of potential harm averted.
Anecdotally, when KnowYourStuffNZ has been checking drugs at events, drug-related hospitalisations and harmful episodes have been fewer than expected.
Proof of success
When people find out the drug they have is not what they presumed, they are often willing to abstain from taking that drug. For our testing in the 2016/17 summer season, more than half of our clients chose not to take a substance that was not as presumed.
When they intended to take it, they gave reasons – for example the identified substance was still a desirable one or they had taken the substance before. When the identified substance was more dangerous than expected (such as NBOMe when they expected LSD), a much larger fraction decided not to take that substance.