After a year-long pilot project kicked off in December, New Zealand is making its Drug Checking Act permanent following promising harm-reduction results over the last four months.
While possession of illicit drugs remains illegal, the new law permits testing at public events like music festivals.
According to a statement Friday, the project has revealed that large quantities of drugs being sold as MDMA or ecstasy are actually synthetic cathinones, so-called bath salts.
Results also showed harm-reduction organizations testing drugs had a positive educational impact on the public by raising awareness of contaminated drugs and educating people about drug use.
In December, New Zealand’s Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield announced set the legislation to expire in 12 months. However, Health Minister Andrew Little said last Friday that the Drug Checking Act will be passed this December after the pilot expires.
“It allows voluntary organizations like KnowYourStuffNZ to test drugs at events like music festivals to verify they are what people think they are, without running foul of the law,” Little said, adding that testing drugs has also made it easier for medical staff to treat people who overdose because they know which substances are involved.
KnowYourStuffNZ, is a volunteer-run organization that provides harm-reduction services at festivals and public events. They use FT-IR spectroscopy to test drugs and if they contain dangerous substitutions.
Today's the day! We'd love to see you…and your stuff… pic.twitter.com/JjCkAuB7gr
— KnowYourStuffNZ (@KnowYourStuffNZ) April 10, 2021
A recent study by Victoria University on behalf of the Ministry of Health reported that 68 per cent of the surveyed festival-goers became more aware of possible contaminants in their drugs and reduced their drug intake after visiting harm reduction services.
About 87 per cent of people told the testing crew they understood more about the harmful repercussions about taking drugs. Around 78 per cent of festival goers said they planned to use illegal drugs there.
Bath salt eutylone sold as MDMA likely responsible for alarming incidents
This festival season, KnowYourStuffNZ received numerous alarming reports from users showing adverse reactions to drugs sold as MDMA, including seizures, nausea and multiple days of insomnia. Staff noted that a lack of clean drug supply is due to the pandemic.
Following the findings, the organization warned the public that eutylone — commonly known as bath salts — could be responsible for the dangerous side effects. It’s known to cause psychotic-like symptoms such as agitation, paranoia and compulsion to re-dose.
KnowYourStuffNZ has been gaining popularity for its efforts. In 2016, they attended nine events and tested 330 samples, and in 2019 drug-testing volunteers attended 22 events and tested 1,368 samples.
In Canada, while the federal government hasn’t directly supported drug checking, provinces have been conducting research on its effectiveness with a number of partners that offer the service.
The British Columbia Centre on Substance Use’s Drug Checking project is a pilot that partners with harm-reduction organizations across the province to implement and evaluate community-based drug checking services. The project aims to empower people to make informed decisions about their drug use and provides updated public health information on drug supply.
Local drug testing services are available at Get Your Drugs Tested, as well as all overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites in Vancouver.
Other harm reduction centers including the Overdose Prevention Society, Insite and HIM Health Centre on Davie provide fentanyl test strips to take home.
Top image by MorgueFile via Wikimedia Commons