High Alert reaches millions with drug warnings

Over the year, High Alert has issued 29 early drug warnings, prompting thousands of visits to the site and national media coverage. Supplied photo.

New Zealand’s drug early warning system is celebrating four years of reducing harm from dangerous drugs.

Since its public launch on June 26, 2020, more than a million people have turned to High Alert for information about drugs across the country.

High Alert is a multi-agency initiative operated by Drug Information and Alerts Aotearoa New Zealand, housed within the National Drug Intelligence Bureau.

It is supported by a network of health professionals and social services, government and non-government. 

These include the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, the New Zealand Drug Foundation, KnowYourStuffNZ, New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme, St John New Zealand, and Wellington Free Ambulance.

The High Alert website acts as an early warning system, identifying acute drug harm, providing evidence and understanding of outbreaks and, in some cases, anticipating potential harm.

Visitors can subscribe confidentially to receive email updates and report unusual or unexpected effects from drugs.

“While High Alert’s message is clear – no use is best use - we have a responsibility to ensure we also take steps to minimise the harm caused by drug use where we can,” says Julia Smith, Manager of the Intelligence Fusion Teams.

Over the past four years, High Alert has issued 29 early warning notifications, each prompting thousands of visits to the site and national media coverage.

The warning that attracted the most interest regarded the incident in 2022 where fentanyl was misrepresented as cocaine in Wairarapa.

More recently, in June 2024, High Alert issued two notifications after ketamine was misrepresented in the Wellington region, and MDMA was misrepresented in Dunedin.

More than 1.3 million people have visited the website since its launch, with nearly 1.7 million views of harm reduction information.

High Alert has reached a further 2.3 million people via Facebook and Instagram, and has generated more than a million TikTok views since launching on the platform in 2022.

“The ongoing success of the early warning system shows people are actively looking for this type of information and demonstrates the enormous potential of High Alert to prevent harm,” says NDIB Manager Detective Inspector Tim Chao.

High Alert’s mailing list has also seen steady growth, with more than 7000 members of the public subscribed to receive early warning notifications.

These emails consistently achieve a high open rate, an average of 58 percent compared to the industry standard of 34 pe rcent.

More than 1000 healthcare professionals are also signed up to receive notifications and harm reduction information.

While a core function of High Alert is providing harm reduction information to the public, it also presents opportunities to engage with partners who may not traditionally associate with law enforcement.

Before High Alert’s launch in 2020, there was minimal coordination or ability to bring these groups together to understand what they were seeing on the frontlines.

There were previously no structures in place to link harm occurring in one part of the country to harm occurring somewhere else.

Now, High Alert monitors this network and undertakes daily scanning across various information sources to identify where drug harm has, or could, occur.

To receive High Alert email alerts or notifications, sign up at www.highalert.org.nz(link is external)


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