The Drug Foundation is thrilled by Health Minister Andrew Little’s announcement providing legal certainty for drug checking happening at festivals this year. The proposed time-limited legislation will reduce the number of people needing medical attention and potentially save lives.
“We can prevent and reduce harms from drugs by using health approaches,” said Ben Birks Ang, Deputy Executive Director.
“Our laws haven’t caught up with the commonly held view that we can best address drug use by treating it as a health issue. These changes give the volunteers and festival organisers certainty that they can provide this important service without running the risk of being prosecuted themselves.”
Know Your Stuff NZ has offered drug checking at festivals for many years, and has partnered with the NZ Drug Foundation for the past three. This experience has proven that for a person who is planning to take a substance, having a conversation with a volunteer and being given information helps them make healthy decisions. Data shows that most people decide not to take a drug if it is different or more harmful than what they expected it to be.
“No one wants someone they care about to not come home from a festival because they have taken a dangerous drug,” said Birks Ang. “While we think this is a positive announcement, we already know the evidence and demand is present. We look forward to the long-term solution, which we hope will expand beyond festivals and be properly resourced.”
Know Your Stuff NZ and the Drug Foundation have received more requests to offer drug checking over the past few years. This expansion needs funding, as it relies on expensive equipment and trained teams. An infrared spectrometer used for testing costs $50,000 each.
“As the Government works through how to make this offering a standard feature of New Zealand’s health approach to drug use, we encourage the government to think about the practicalities of offering services throughout the country. Both equipment and staffing need to be part of this. ”
Drugs are bought from an illegal market, meaning that there is no certainty that people are actually buying what they think they are. Recently, High Alert put out a warning that the more harmful MDA is being sold as MDMA. This puts people at a much higher health risk and could even lead to death, which could be prevented by offering drug checking. This also helps health services know what substances may be around at a festival, saving them valuable time when they respond to people needing medical attention.