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KnowYourStuffNZ Celebrates Two Years Of Legality

On November 25, KnowYourStuffNZ is celebrating the two-year anniversary of the Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Act 2021. This Act made drug checking permanently legal in Aotearoa New Zealand, a world first.

“When this bill was passed, we became the first fully-legal and publicly-funded drug checking organisation in the world,” says founder and Chair of the Board of Directors Wendy Allison.

“It was a great step forward, as it means we can now offer our staff, volunteers, and clients assurance that they will not be arrested for the simple act of trying to keep themselves or others safer when consuming recreational drugs.”

KnowYourStuffNZ was founded in 2015 by Wendy Allison and her friends. They operated in a legal grey area until 2020, when temporary legislation was put in place to allow drug checking services to operate over the 2020-21 festival season. In 2021 the legislation was made permanent.

Since its inception, KnowYourStuffNZ has grown from a small volunteer-run organisation to a national network of drug checking services. While it used to operate only at music festivals, drug checking services are now offered at clinics and pop-up events across the country.

“In the 2022-23 season we ran over 100 events and tested nearly 4000 samples,” said Operations Manager Emma Carroll.

The biggest change under this new legislation has been the provision of drug checking services outside of festivals. Clinics are now held regularly in Auckland, Raglan, Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin, with pop-up clinics happening in Whanganui, Nelson, Invercargill, and Timaru. The NZ Needle Exchange, also a licensed drug checking organisation, now operates continuous testing out of their premises in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, meaning people can access these services more easily and more often.

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“Having other drug checking organisations working in Aoteaora, such as the Needle Exchange and the NZ Drug Foundation, means that drug checking services are able to serve more people across different communities,” says General Manager Casey Spearin.

“We’re now able to collaborate with services like High Alert, the country’s early-warning system for dangerous drugs, and share vital equipment such as the infrared spectrometers we use for drug checking.”

The national stock of drug-checking spectrometers has risen from five in 2021 to twelve in 2023.

“All of this means we are able to massively increase our testing capacity. However we still know that we test about 0.1% of drugs consumed across New Zealand” says Casey.

“Police wastewater testing shows that New Zealanders consume about 80,000 doses of MDMA per week.”

Several dangerous substances have been detected recently and may be circulating over the summer. Nitazenes, a class of synthetic opioids, have been responsible for a death and several hospitalisations this year. And recently a spate of LSD tabs have been revealed to be NBOMe and NBOH , synthetic hallucinogens and stimulants which have caused many deaths worldwide.

KnowYourStuffNZ looks forward to another busy summer season serving over fifteen festivals and continuing to run city clinics.

Operations Manager Emma Carroll recommends that people get their drugs checked at city clinics before attending festivals, if possible.

“Avoid the crowds and queuing in the sunshine. Check out to find a drug checking clinic in your area.”

“Most of all – stay safe this summer, and look out for your mates.”

More information

There is a large and growing body of evidence that drug checking reduces overall drug harm.

In previous years, 68% of festival attendees who used drug checking services reported changing their drug-taking behaviour, and 87% reported their knowledge of drug safety improved.

KnowYourStuffNZ’s own research reports that 50% of clients were less likely to mix drugs after using the service, 45% were more likely to take smaller amounts, and 20% reported taking drugs less often.

In the 2022-23 season, 86% of substances tested were consistent with what they were presumed to be. One in 10 substances were not what they were presumed to be. Over 50% of people chose not to take their substance if they tested inconsistent with what they were purchased as.

It’s estimated that 50% of New Zealanders will use illicit drugs over their lifetime, and 1 in 8 use them regularly.

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