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Alcohol and other drugs are used at music festivals in New Zealand every Summer. While most enjoy this experience, legal and illegal substances can be harmful. But implementing a drug harm reduction strategy can make your music festival safer for everyone.

Setting clear expectations for your attendees, providing people with information and tools to be safer, and being honest in your approach will reduce the risk of harm.

KnowYourStuffNZ provides free drug checking at New Zealand music festivals using trained volunteers.

A music festival is different

Unlike a bar or nightclub, a music festival can be in a distant location where you stay all day and night or a number of nights with first-aid, food and shelter provided. If licensed to sell alcohol under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, attendees intoxicated from alcohol or other drugs are expected to be removed. However, this can be unreasonable at a music festival. Therefore, a drug harm reduction strategy and a relationship with Police are a necessity. As an organiser, you must skillfully balance your legal responsibility to discourage drug use with your host responsibility to reduce harm.

Samuel Andrews at a music festival where KnowYourStuffNZ offered free drug checking

Harm reduction asks us to accept what we all know - that substance use will occur and cannot realistically be prevented at most music festivals. Once we have accepted this, we can put in place measures that keep attendees safe.


How to reduce harm from alcohol and other drugs

It is up to you to determine how you balance the intent of the law with your desire to be a responsible host. Actions which help ensure the safety of your attendees include the following:

Before the event  During the event
  • Use channels such as the event website, on-site posters, notifications, emails and social media to issue information explaining:

1. Use of illegal substances at festivals is prohibited, is risky for reasons other than the law, and is discouraged.
2. Information and advice for those that will use drugs anyway.

  • Build relationships with local Police and emergency services. Develop an Emergency Plan and share it with them.
  • Train staff in how to prevent intoxication, and intervene when it is identified. This includes having a clear plan about how to respond to a life threatening overdose.
  • Review previous substance related incidents and implement measures to prevent them from reoccurring.
  • Engage experienced harm reduction services from the Police and/or a security firm and St John's and/or another first-aid provider, and try to provide the following:

1. A chill space close to your first aid provider where people who are intoxicated can recover and be cared for.
2. A free drug checking service where people can get substances checked and receive advice about being safer, e.g. KnowYourStuffNZ.

  • Locate amnesty points for disposing of illegal substances.
  • Offer free water and sunscreen.
  • Widely communicate messages if particularly harmful substances are identified at the event. Advise people not to take them and what to do if someone around them has.

Drug checking at New Zealand festivals

Drug checking, sometimes called pill testing, is a free service which tests substances to confirm their contents. It is offered in New Zealand by KnowYourStuffNZ, a volunteer organisation supported by the New Zealand Drug Foundation. KnowYourStuffNZ has tested thousands of recreational substances at various New Zealand music festivals. Drug checking is harm reduction with the potential to save lives.

Is drug checking legal?

Due to a recent law change, festival organisers can now feel confident that they cannot be prosecuted for allowing drug checking in their events. It is also now legal for drug checking services to handle illicit drugs to test them and pass them onto a lab for further testing. Read more about this on the Ministry of Health website.

SEE ALSO: Drug Checking FAQ


This resource was developed in collaboration with Te Hiringa Hauora (now Te Whatu Ora), NZ Police, NZ Institute of Liquor Licensing Inspectors, National Public Health Alcohol Working Group, Hospitality NZ, and security providers.

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