Pop up drug checking ahead of Queenstown, Wānaka party season

by Kim Bowden - Dec 15, 2023

New Year's revellers looking to party in Wānaka and Queenstown will have opportunity to get any drugs checked before a big night out.

While drug checking has been legal for three years an organisation running the service says it does not have enough resources to set up at major local festival Rhythm and Alps.

However it is offering two pop-up clinics towards the end of the year in each of the southern holiday hotspots.

Know Your Stuff will bring its kit to Queenstown on Wednesday, December 27, before shifting to Wānaka on Thursday, December 28.

Otago manager Lachlan Akers says it takes about five to ten minutes to check what's actually in a pill.

A piece of testing equipment called a spectrometer is used to test a very small sample of the drug, about the size of a match head.

"It's free, legal and confidential," Mr Akers says.

"It's about allowing people to know what they're actually putting into their bodies and, from there, giving them information on how they can use that substance more safely."

He doesn't think the service enables people to take drugs more easily.

"People will be taking them either way, and if they know what they've got then they can make a more informed decision as to whether they actually want to take it. We've actually found that we reduce the amount of drugs taken because people will find out they've got some drug they didn't actually want to take."

Know Your Stuff NZ general manager Casey Spearin says she'd like to see her team on the ground at music festival Rhythm and Alps, but it is party season and their limited resources are already spread too thin across the country.

"We are basically over-booked for New Year's festivals."

As is the plan this year, last year they ran a clinic to capture the pre-festival crowd in Wānaka.

She says for every ten drugs they sampled there, two were not what the would-be user had thought they were.

"Some of them tested as eutylone, a synthetic cathinone that we commonly see substituted for MDMA, while other were cut with fillers such as sugar, creatine and dimethylsulfone."

A piece of testing kit called a spectrometer is used to test a very small sample of the drug, about the size of a matchstick head (Image/Supplied).

She thinks drug testing is a cost-effective way to minimise community harm.

"We maintain that it's a lot cheaper to run testing service versus having to do the cleanup afterwards. It just a way more effective use of taxpayer money at the end of the day."

The annual Rhythm and Alps music and camping festival is now in its 13th year, with 10,000 partygoers and more than 6,000 campers expected to converge on a few paddocks in the Cardrona Valley from December 29 to 31.

In a hearing in recent weeks to consider the festival's alcohol licence application, police national co-ordinator of alcohol harm prevention Acting Senior Sergeant Ian Paulin claimed the combination of alcohol, party drugs, and young people created an ‘‘underbelly that nobody wants to talk about’’.

Ms Spearin says she is in talks with festival organisers and is hopeful Know Your Stuff will have a presence at the event next year.

"This term 'underbelly' really paints this picture of it being a dark and seedy thing, which we agree is certainly a possibility...but there are plenty of people who do use drugs in a non-problematic way."

She is focused on continuing conversations to de-stigmatise drug taking.

"We have a lot of people that come to our clinics that say, 'This is the first time that I've had a conversation with anyone about my drug use'...We think that the more that people are talking about it, and the less that it is stigmatised, the less harm that is going to exist."


  • Queenstown drug checking at 1 Memorial Street, 4pm until 6.30pm
  • Wānaka drug checking at 89 Ardmore Street, from 4pm until 6.30pm
  • To learn more about Know Your Stuff NZ head to https://knowyourstuff.nz/
  • To find out about upcoming drug checking clinics head to https://thelevel.org.nz/drug-checking-clinics
  • It is written into legislation that people are protected from any legal consequence while visiting a drug checking clinic

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