Earlier this month, New Zealand became the first country in the world to permanently legalize drug control services. The new law allows people attending any designated event, including music festivals, to test the safety of their illicit substances such as ecstasy and MDMA without any legal consequences.
The bill, passed 87 to 33 votes, opposed by a single opposition group. It should come into force from December. The argument for this legislation is that these drugs obtained on the black market are often contaminated and mixed with cheaper harmful substances causing more damage.
New Zealand’s Health Minister Andrew Little said the law was based on studies in which the majority of festival-goers who used drug control services said they changed their behavior after ‘they had seen the results of the drugs.
“Last summer, 40% of the MDMA tested was found to be eutylone, a potentially dangerous synthetic cathinone also known as bath salts and linked to deaths and hospitalizations,” Radio said. New Zealand, citing Minister of Health Little.
In 2020, the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project in Canada found boric acid and talcum powder in cocaine. Talcum powder can severely clog human blood vessels if injected. The Loop, the UK drug control NGO, found that 30% of the tested samples sold as MDMA at the UK’s Lost Village festival were just caffeine.
What is medication verification?
Also known as the “pill test”, drug testing is not a new concept. This has happened at lost events in Europe, UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This involves testing a small sample of a substance to find out its ingredients and composition. The services are also used to offer advice on best practices for taking the substance in a safer way.
New Zealand’s new law will not only decriminalize all of these events, but will also facilitate the process through state-sponsored programs and institutions.
Research published by Victoria University of Wellington observed that “international evidence to date on drug control shows that: it does not increase the use of illegal drugs; it does not encourage those who do not use illegal drugs to start using them; behavior change is evident when substances are not as sold; the advice on harm reduction is appreciated and followed by young people ”.
Another study by researchers at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Berlin Institute of Health found that drug control as a harm reduction tool was highly accepted during events. The study was published in the European Addiction Research Journal earlier this year.
Another article published in the journal BMC Public Health suggests that community drug control has potential impacts as a harm reduction response.
“These include increasing power and accountability within the illicit drug market, improving the health of communities, supporting safer substance supply and regulation initiatives, and mitigation of the harms of criminalization, ”said researchers from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria in their paper.
Earlier this month, Germany’s new coalition government said it would regulate the adult cannabis market and also expand drug control as a harm reduction measure.
Despite a long history of lawsuits, governments around the world have hesitated to permanently legalize drug testing due to social and political concerns. The New Zealand experience may provide a real word on this extremely complex issue.