7 Apr 2018

Festival-goers warned of drug testing kit effectiveness

5:07 pm on 7 April 2018

Festival-goers to Wellington's Homegrown music festival today are being cautioned that over-the-counter drug testing kits can give people a false sense of security.

Drugs on a black surface.

Drugs on a black surface. Photo: 123RF

The substance N-Ethylpentylone, over three times the potency of ecstasy, has been found in Wellington and hospitalised 13 people in Christchurch earlier this year.

This raised concerns over effective ways to test illegal substances before consumption.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said over-the-counter tests were better than nothing but could give people false confidence.

"The real issue is there's a lot of pills and powders being sold as ecstasy, but there are these other drugs from the cathinone family, and those tests don't pick those up."

He said if people are planning on taking drugs even without testing, he'd recommend they take a quarter of the pill to prevent taking too high a dosage and wait an hour and not to take anything posing to be MDMA in crystal or powder form.

Testing drugs at events is still seen as a legal grey area and won't be offered at Homegrown, meaning those buying ecstasy or other drugs will either take the risk of the drug not being what they thought or use a testing kit.

Mr Bell said more effective testing equipment, known as a spectrometer, cost about $40,000 so there needed to be changes to legislation so festivals could use testing serves such as Know Your Stuff NZ.

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Photo: 123rf

Hempstore Aotearoa manager Chris Fowlie said over-the-counter tests were the drug taking equivalent of take-home pregnancy tests.

"What we need is proper testing, but the reagents that we have are a good first step. Ideally they would be followed up with a proper lab test."

Mr Fowlie said there needed to be police cooperation so festivals and organisations were not prosecuted for providing testing services.

However, police are remaining firm on their stance on allowing testing, saying the best option for harm prevention is not taking the drug at all.

"The possession of a Class A, B and C substance is illegal, and if you are prosecuted for this you can find yourself facing serious consequences," a spokesperson said.

However, groups like Know Your Stuff argue they're not actually handling the drugs themselves.

Other countries allowed lab testing and New Zealand needed to catch up, Mr Fowlie said.

It was better not to take drugs but because people were, testing kits were necessary, he said.