Govt providing $800k injection into drug-checking services at festivals

Source: 1News

The Government is providing a cash injection of $800,000 into drug-checking services to help keep young people safe at summer festivals.

“This is not about condoning drug use but about keeping people safe,” Health Minister Andrew Little said in a statement on Saturday.

“There is clear evidence that having drug-checking services at festivals changes behaviour and reduces harm.”

Anyone attending events and festivals must also be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Drug-checking services were made legal for the first time last summer following a petition by the Green Party.

“Forty per cent of what users thought was MDMA, or ecstasy, was found to be eutylone, a potentially dangerous synthetic cathinone also known as bath salts and linked to deaths overseas and hospitalisations in New Zealand,” Little said.

Research by Victoria University on behalf of the Ministry of Health showed that 68 per cent of festival-goers who used drug-checking services "changed their behaviour once they saw the results".

Some chose to dispose of the drugs which had been tested, while others reduced the amount they look, according to the research.

Most of the respondents - 87 per cent - said they “understood more about the harmful behaviour involved in taking the drugs” after speaking to the testing team.

The Government funding will go towards the national coordination of services, training for drug-checkers and providing information about the harm that drugs do.

Temporary legislation which allowed drug-testing services to operate legally last summer will be replaced by permanent legislation before the end of 2021.

The Green Party welcomed Saturday’s announcement, but called for the Government to go further.

The party’s drug reform spokesperson, Chlöe Swarbrick, said while it will “save lives”, it’s “just a start”.

Swarbrick said drug-checking services “should be available to whoever needs them wherever they’re needed, not subject to annual Government funding decisions”.

“There must be funding for community-level drug checking, like we’ve had since the 1980s when we first introduced needle exchange services.

“It’s ludicrous to pretend drug consumption only happens at music festivals and not also bars, clubs and weekend parties. Those on the front line are the first to admit gatekeeping their services to only ticketed, expensive events limits harm reduction. Everyone who needs these services should have access.”

The Greens proposed a $3 million cash boost annually to fund drug-checking services for both festivals and permanent sites.

“We won’t give up until harm reduction is the default, instead of the exception, and the Misuse of Drugs Act is overhauled for law that actually achieves its stated aims, instead of sweeping problems under the rug.”