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World-leading legislation could ensure harm reduction for all NZers

20 Jul 2021
This article was published 3 years ago. Content may no longer be relevant.

NZ is currently introducing world-first legislation that will permanently legalise and regulate drug checking - an essential harm reduction service that has been proven to save lives.

The Drug Foundation is throwing its support behind this move, with the hope that it will allow drug checking to reach every New Zealander who needs it, including the most vulnerable.

Drug Foundation staff recently made a submission to parliament which strongly supported the Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Bill. At the same time, we called for a number of changes including a 'public interest' amendment to our drug laws which would make it easier to introduce new harm-reduction initiatives in the future. Drug Foundation Executive Director Sarah Helm says while they applaud the legislation for drug-checking, we shouldn’t have to wait for a lengthy legislative process every time a life-saving harm reduction initiative is proposed.

KnowYourStuffNZ has been running drug-checking for a number of years, with the Drug Foundation working alongside KnowYourStuffNZ since 2016. Research and experience clearly shows that people take fewer risks as a result of drug checking. Additionally, festival organisers say it makes their events safer.   When told a drug is not what they thought, people will very often either decide not to take it, or take less of it. In many cases it’s the first proper conversation clients have ever had about their drug use.

The Drug Foundation would like to see drug checking expanded beyond festivals, to ensure nobody misses out. “More funding and proactive provision of drug checking is needed to ensure that people who are most at-risk are able to access this vital service," says Helm. “We want to see drug checking made available at Needle Exchanges, in community centres and in many other places.”

“Funding must be made available to buy more spectrometers, improve access and ensure harm reduction advice can be provided wherever drug checking takes place.”

Download our submission here (PDF, 316 KB).

Our submission requested these additional regulations:

  • Fund drug checking in different locations to reach different populations. 
  • Draft supporting regulations with a strong focus on ensuring professional standards for drug checking services.
  • Establish a centralised body or bodies with steering group oversight to govern training needs, assess licence applications, commission training and so on.
  • Design comprehensive training or e-learning modules to ensure a standard level of professionalism across all services.
  • Establish robust monitoring and surveillance frameworks within drug checking services.
  • Ensure technology used by service providers is fit for purpose.
  • Insert a ‘public interest’ clause into the Misuse of Drugs Act so that future harm reduction initiatives can be implemented without law change.

Proposed changes to the Bill

  • Define harm reduction in the Bill to ensure all services have a consistent approach to what this means.
  • Provide more clarity around the definition of a service provider. Make it clear that a service provider may be either an individual or an entity (clauses 4, 35DA, DE, DF, DG and DH).
  • Confirm that under clause 35DF, an individual or volunteer employed by a service provider is not required to hold a licence themselves.
  • Ensure that the functions of a service provider always include the role of providing harm reduction (clause 35DB).
  • Expand the functions of a service provider to include sharing data on substances tested with other organisations and agencies (clause 35DB).
  • Consider further protecting clients of drug checking from police prosecution for drug possession (clause 35DD).
  • Include some exceptions to the basic principle that service providers may not collect personal information (clause 35DG) so that we can:
    - Measure demographics such as ethnicity.
    Hold limited information temporarily to facilitate carrying out the service.
    - Ensure social service or health providers who already hold details on their clients do not inadvertently break the law.


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