Darroch Ball, Law and Order Spokesperson for New Zealand First, does not support drug checking as a harm reduction strategy and is currently blocking a clarification of the Misuse of Drugs Act that would allow the service to be implemented nationally. Ball has said that drug checking sends the wrong message, and that drug users know the risks and should accept the consequences up to and including death, saying “We’re being very reactionary if we think it’s ok to start saving lives or to start protecting people after the drug has been purchased.”
“His message is abstain or die,” says KnowYourStuffNZ’s Managing Director, Wendy Allison. “His perspective is callous and deeply flawed. People know drug use can be risky, but the risks are not at all clear without accurate information about the content of the drug, and some people will choose to take drugs regardless of ‘just say no’ messaging. Drug checking shows these users the real risks, and provides information that will help reduce the chance of young people dying. Ball seems to prefer that people died for his moral views instead.”
Ball claims that drug checking doesn’t work, and that it normalises and condones drug use. This ignores twenty years of experience of drug checking in Europe and the US, and five years in New Zealand and the UK. This experience has provided evidence that drug checking reduces risky behaviour and the harms from drugs. The same twenty years of study have found no evidence to suggest that drug checking leads to increases in drug use.
KnowYourStuffNZ has been providing drug checking and drug harm reduction services at festivals for five years. By providing accurate information about the contents of a substance, the service encourages festival-goers to avoid the most dangerous drugs and make safer and more informed decisions about their drug use. The service is well supported, with festival-goers, festival organisers, parents, medics and other emergency services, MPs from both sides of Parliament, three NZ Prime Ministers including current PM Jacinda Ardern, and the Minister of Police Stuart Nash all in favour of drug checking.
It is estimated that by age 21, 80% of young New Zealanders will have tried illicit substances. High-dose MDMA pills containing two or three times the standard dose have killed a number of young people in the UK and Australia. KnowYourStuffNZ’s data shows that these pills are available in New Zealand as well. “People’s lives are at risk and it is only a matter of time before one of Aotearoa’s young people dies,” says Allison. “When that happens, Ball will have blood on his hands.”