Often when I'm hanging out with my friends who are high, are about to be, there's a niggling worry they might die, or get seriously sick. Partly this is because I'm prone to overthinking and jumping to the worst possible conclusions at any given moment, partly that's because when we take drugs in an unregulated market, users actually have zero guarantee of what they are actually getting. Fortunately there's other people who worry about these sorts of things too, and are working hard to reduce the risks that taking drugs entail. One of these people is Wendy Allison.
Wendy started drug checking back in 2008, creating Know Your Stuff NZ, who in collaboration with The New Zealand Drug Foundation, offer drug harm reduction services, including pill testing, free of charge at events all around New Zealand. The organisation also advocates for evidence based policy change when it comes to drug use. Wendy and I first met in passing a few years back when I was on a panel alongside her, hosted by journalist, harm reduction advocate and all round good guy Russell Brown at Splore!. At the time I was working in alcohol and drug harm reduction myself for the Ministry of Health, and I had previously been unaware of her work and was really impressed. This year over the summer there was a few articles about Know Your Stuff circulating, tragically many people died from drug related causes, and subsequently an increase in public attention around drug use and the move towards harm reduction approaches have been growing, so I was curious to chat with Wendy properly and learn about what Know Your Stuff NZ do. I reached out to Wendy on Twitter and she kindly agreed to have a chat on the phone. It was cool to talk, and fascinating hearing from someone on the front lines about the state of drugs in New Zealand, the science behind the testing and some of the risks users need to be aware of.
Know Your Stuff is staffed by volunteers and rely on donations to provide their services, so if you're interested in supporting their work you can visit their site and donate.