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Drug checking is a free service which tests the safety of recreational drugs. It's available in New Zealand from KnowYourStuffNZ, a volunteer organisation which we support.
Drug checking is harm reduction. It equips people who have a drug they intend to take with more objective information about it. It lets people use this information to reconsider how or even if they will take the substance they have.
The illegal market for psychoactive substances is increasingly unpredictable. There are hundreds of new psychoactive substances. Many are known as ‘bathsalts’ and have similar properties to drugs like MDMA but can be more harmful, especially if you don't know which substance you have. Many are impossible to identify by sight or smell. Even if people take a substance knowing what it is and its effects, there remains the risk of it being adulterated or cut with another substance.
SEE ALSO: SYNTHETICS CRISIS
Knowing what you have by visiting a drug checking service means you can plan a better, safer experience. This might include researching how much to take and knowing what to avoid while on it such as medicines or alcohol, which mixes particularly badly with most synthetic substances.
When you bring a substance to be checked, you will receive a one to one service and will witness the testing process which takes up to 15 minutes. Trained volunteers will test a minute non-returnable sample of your stuff.
1. A pin-head sized sample is divided into three tiny piles
2. Two piles are tested with reagents
3. One pile is tested using Alphie, our FT-IR spectrometer
4. Results are discussed and you're offered tailored harm reduction advice
Drug checking lets people make a more informed decision. At festivals during 2017/2018 in New Zealand, 20% of samples were not what people thought they had. A further 11% of samples were adulterated with other psychoactive additives.
When the substance was different to what was expected, 52% did not intend to take it and 11% were uncertain. When presented with additional information about the substance they had, people often made safer decisions about whether they would use it or how they would use it.
For those that intended to use a substance despite discovering it was not what they expected, they often had used the substance previously and knew what to expect. Even for this group, they commented on being more considered and safer with the substance which included not using other drugs or alcohol at the same time.
One of the first places to offer drug checking was Austria in 1997. Led by the Medical University of Vienna, CheckIt! provide services at festivals. Using a highly advanced GCMS, samples are numbered, analysed by chemists and then the results are displayed about 30 minutes later which everyone at the event can see. This set the basis for best practice for festival based checking. Variations on this service are available in the Netherlands (DIMS), Portugal (ChEcK!N), United Kingdom (The Loop), and Switzerland (SaferParty) to name a few. These are often small services that face similar legal barriers as we face in New Zealand. Modes of drug checking can vary:
Energy Control in Spain checks samples received by post. This is distinct from other services because it is not on-site and results are posted online. It allows anyone to access the service which may provide a better picture of the drug market.
The Misuse of Drug Act 1975 (MoDA) means that drug checking exists in a legal grey area.
Under Section 12 of the Act people are liable if their premises (this includes your hovercraft apparently) is knowingly used for an offence, including possession or use of a "controlled drug". This puts festival organisers at risk of prosecution because drug checking acknowledges what we all know – people use drugs at festivals. Volunteers providing the service are also at risk because even though they avoid handling substances it is unclear whether testing tiny samples amounts to possession.
Replacing MoDA with a health focused drug law could address these legal barriers. At the very least, a small amendment to the Act could protect harm reduction services from prosecution.
Unfortunately KnowYourStuffNZ does not publicly confirm where the service will be available. This is because it operates in a grey area of the law and it does not wish to draw undue attention to festival organisers who are doing what they can to keep attendees safe. But there's no harm in asking KnowYourStuffNZ privately on Twitter.
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