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This year, drug checking services have been more in demand than ever.

Thanks to increased exposure and support, drug checking volunteers have expanded their reach. Not only did Know Your Stuff NZ and Drug Foundation volunteers attend a number of music festivals over the summer, they also attended Otago University Students’ Association O-week and the annual Hyde Street student party. Additionally, a free walk-in session was held at the Drug Foundation office during a local event – something we’d like to do more of.

Vocal support from Police Minister Hon Stuart Nash early in the year put drug checking firmly in the spotlight, bringing more credibility and mainstream awareness to the service.

This allowed volunteers to give potentially life-saving advice to more people than ever before – and importantly, across all the events more than half of people decided not to take a substance, after being told it was not what they thought it was. Those people were all someone’s son or daughter, who left better informed and able to make better decisions.

Students, while initially cautious, have embraced the service. Drug Foundation Senior Health Promotion and Policy Adviser Anna Tonks volunteered at this year’s Hyde Street party.  A staple on the student social calendar, and notorious until the Otago University Students Association got involved a few years back, last month’s event was reportedly trouble-free.

Volunteers tested 81 samples. Of those, 7 were not what the person expected. Three of those were discarded, all of which were potentially dangerous synthetic cathinones.

Anna said it’s an important service to offer students, because they’re young and likely to experiment – they’re also not very well-informed, which makes them high risk. “People really engaged with us. The numbers were high, and they wanted to talk.”

“It’s really great to be able to provide harm reduction advice to that age group.”

She said it would not have happened without the leadership of Otago University Students’ Association, whose support made it much easier to provide an effective service.

This year Know Your Stuff NZ carried out an unofficial, voluntary survey, which threw up some interesting results. Among the insights collected, they discovered the people they’re reaching are young – but not as young as you might expect: Half were under 25, half over 25, and one in 20 were 45 or older.

Results suggested they were reaching new people, many of whom had no prior experience with harm reduction services. And a worrying number (75%) reported unpleasant experiences with drugs that weren’t what they expected. For more insights, see the Know Your Stuff news item.

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