4 Dec 2020

Pill testing law too late for this summer

From Nine To Noon, 9:09 am on 4 December 2020

A drug-checking organisation says new legislation passed this week is too late to make any difference to young people this summer.  

MDMA pills distributed by drug dealer seized by legal authority.

Photo: 123RF

The interim law ensures that volunteer drug checkers are not prosecuted when checking whether illicit drugs have been laced or swapped for a more dangerous substance. 

For six years, Know Your Stuff volunteers have set up stalls at summer festivals to test drugs for high risk substances or dangerous impurities.

Managing director Wendy Allison told Nine to Noon there was not enough time to import the specialist spectrometer equipment needed to test at all festivals. 

The organisation had just three sets of equipment, meaning they could only attend three festivals at once, Allison said. 

"There are far more events than that happening, especially around the New Year's period."

She said there were other spectrometers in New Zealand, but they were hidden away in laboratories. 

"The ability to cut through all that red-tape in the time we have would be very limited."

The spectrometers are manufactured in Germany, and took six weeks to arrive when the organisation ordered them last year.

"That was of course pre-Covid and not over a holiday season. So I would expect, if we ordered spectrometers tomorrow they would arrive in February at the earliest."

Allison did not blame the government for the delays in the legislation, instead putting it down to outside influences such as Covid-19 and other political parties opposing the law last year. 

She said the legislation would help improve the service they could offer, because it allowed volunteers to handle the substances, making it more efficient.

Prior to the legislation, the group had to instruct festival-goers to test the drugs themselves, because it feared volunteers would be at risk of prosecution if they handled substances.

"It's not a complete washout, we are limited in the number of events we can attend, but we will be able to help more people at those events."

Allison said the group would also be doing pop-up testing before festivals, so people had more options to test their substances. 

Know Your Stuff focuses its services on festivals, but said the law would legitimise other groups to help other communities. 

She said most of those who used the services were white, middle-class patrons.

"There are communities out there where they are suffering from the effects of contaminated and adulterated drugs that we are not accessing, but could be accessed by other organisations who are operating in those spaces.

"They are now able to get licensed to carry out drug-checking.

"We would like to support them." 

For those who cannot get their drugs tested, Allison advises them to treat all substances as if they are unknown and with extreme caution.