Harm-reduction drug testing not supported by law

April 13, 2018

Harm-reduction drug testing not supported by law

Wendy Allison in the KnowYourStuffNZ tent. Photo: KnowYourStuffNZ

A drug harm-reduction team has been offering free drug testing and education at public events, but the law is restricting their options.

KnowYourStuffNZ is an organisation of volunteers who have been legally testing drugs at events around New Zealand to keep users as safe as possible.

However, events that allow the group in are technically breaking the Misuse of Drug act.

Under section 12 of the Misuse of Drugs act 1975, it is illegal for events to knowingly permit groups of any form to operate in ways that are against the act.

“By letting us in, acknowledging that people use drugs at their event, that makes them a criminal,” said the director of KnowYourStuffNZ, Wendy Allison.

KnowYourStuffNZ is not operating illegally as they do not handle any of the drugs while preparing the test, it is just their clients that do.

Ms Allison said there is no quality control in the drug market, it can be very dangerous and their aim is to reduce these risks as much as possible.

New Zealand Health Minister Dr David Clark said: “Drug addiction is a health issue, and the Government wants to reduce the harm caused by illegal drugs.”

However Dr Clark states he does not hold any sympathy for people peddling illegal substances that cause harm, but he can understand why they might want to get their drugs tested.

Law clarification on drug harm-reduction services would allow KnowYourStuffNZ to openly operate at events without the possibility of the organiser operating illegally.

Allison said what they are doing is important because no one can stop drug use altogether. Drug-related harm-reduction education and testing is a way to keep people as safe as possible.

A St John spokesperson said they would be open to user identification systems to detect dangerous drugs.

“St John would be open to using an early identification system that identifies batches of dangerous drugs and believes such a system could help to reduce harm and keep users and communities safe.”

One-third of the substances KnowYourStuffNZ have tested have been something completely different to what the user thought or adulterated with something else.

The New Zealand Police could not comment on whether drug harm-reduction testing should be made explicitly legal, but they did restate that testing drugs and the testing equipment are not illegal.

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