Drug checking just got a big endorsement, with the release of a new Victoria University study. Although it’s still a tough pill for some to swallow, the evidence is clear that harm reduction works.
Drug checking is a free service, currently carried out exclusively by trained KnowYourStuffNZ volunteers, which allows people to check whether a substance is what they believe it to be.
The report, by VUW associate professor of criminology Dr Fiona Hutton, paints a picture of a valuable service that young people trust, resulting in demonstrable behaviour change that could save lives. We think this crucial service should be freely available to all New Zealanders.
It adds to a growing body of international evidence that shows, far from encouraging illicit drug use, drug checking delivers vital harm reduction advice to people who were already planning to take a substance.
The research was carried out at festivals last year, before the government brought in legislation allowing drug checking to be legally carried out over the summer. A more permanent law change is still to come.
Over 900 surveys were completed, and researchers also interviewed 66 event organisers, medical personnel, Know Your Stuff NZ volunteers, and members of the public.
Of those surveyed, 155 had used a drug checking service. Sixty-eight percent of them said after using the service, they had either disposed of drugs they intended to consume, or followed advice given to them by a volunteer. Eighty-seven percent said it improved their knowledge of harm reduction, allowing them to make safer and more informed decisions.
The report said a staggering 95-97 percent of all interviewees supported drug checking, and wanted the law changed. They believed young people would take drugs regardless of their illegal status.
Festival organisers told the researchers drug checking helped make their events safer, and illegality was a barrier to that. “Organisers who invited Know Your Stuff NZ to their events noted fewer serious incidents related to illicit drug use and emphasised the importance of having drug checking at their events.”
“There is a high level of support to amend s.12 of the 1975 MODA to allow drug checking and make services like KYSNZ legal.”
MDMA, cannabis and LSD were the most common illegal drugs used by festival-goers. The Drug Foundation believes drug checking should be upscaled beyond festivals, so that anyone in the country who needs to can access a clinic.
Survey participants also reported that barriers to accessing services, resources and information were high.
A group of powerful synthetic opioids that were first detected in the country just a year ago may have already been linked to several deaths.
95% of respondents reported positive effects, in a study that looked at both prescription and black market cannabis use.