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New figures show drug checking services have reduced harm - but more could be done

12 Jan 2021
This article was published 3 years ago. Content may no longer be relevant.

New figures released by KnowYourStuffNZ show the vast majority of people who attended drug checking chose not to take the harmful cathinone eutylone, where it turned out they had unwittingly purchased it.

NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director Sarah Helm said: “Some 75% said they wouldn’t take the substance, and a further 15% said they weren’t sure, as a result of attending drug checking and finding out the substance they had was the more harmful substance eutylone.

"The percentage of people who have decided they wouldn’t take the substance is significantly greater than in previous years. People have also been messaging and emailing KnowYourStuffNZ to let them know they had also independently decided not to take a substance either because of generic advice provided or because they had conducted their own tests.” 

This season has proven the need for readily available drug checking services. The spike in harmful cathinones, along with the high numbers of people who have chosen not to take these substances because of drug checking, is evidence of the valuable role drug checking can play. 

“The media coverage and legalisation of drug-checking has reduced stigma and made it acceptable to seek out advice. Bringing substance use into the light has meant people have had more access to information to help them avoid harm.”

Changes to the law passed under urgency late in 2020 to legalise drug checking have meant those people conducting drug checking haven’t had to worry about being prosecuted.

“At this point, KnowYourStuffNZ are legally permitted to conduct the tests but the volunteer-based operation hasn’t yet been able to scale up to the extent that is needed. This season has proven that we need drug checking to be made available at all major events, and more regular and widespread clinics set up for a drop-in styled service.”

“An important component of the drug checking services being offered is advice to reduce harm. This guidance for example can result in people deciding not to take a substance, or in them choosing not to mix substances. Aside from these drug checking activities, and general information provided by the NZ Drug Foundation, there is very little proactive advice available to the many young people and other New Zealanders who use illicit drugs. It is time for that to change.”

The NZ Drug Foundation and KnowYourStuffNZ are being consulted by the Ministry of Health about the long-term future of drug checking.

“Our drug laws are still catching up with the fact that we can prevent and reduce harms from drugs by using health approaches. The Misuse of Drugs Act was written in 1975, before eutylone was invented. It is time for a comprehensive look at our drug laws to move to a health-based approach.” 


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