Student union wants testing of drugs in all universities

The group that represents students is calling for free drug checking to be available at all universities in New Zealand.

The Otago University Students Association (OUSA), Know Your Stuff NZ and New Zealand Drug Foundation announced a free testing trial will be conducted over four days as part of OUSA's 2019 Orientation week.

The aim is to make students aware of what they might be ingesting and prevent harm.

New Zealand Union of Students Association (NZUSA) President James Ranstead told Newshub it's a great initiative that needs to go national.

"There are students who are using drugs. We do know it's happening and on the rise in regards to the diversity of drug-taking, for example, the likes of MDMA. Through these drug testing-measures we would be able to get better statistics on what people are taking and in what quantities."

Mr Ranstead says it needs to be a collaborative process between students and universities to make the system work for everyone.

"We'd encourage universities to be constructive in these discussions and we really want them to be onside with the students associations when it comes to these large events. We do believe drug testing should be a viable option on campuses throughout New Zealand."

The process involves participants providing a small sample of the substance they want to ingest for testing.

Results are given back to the students and advice is be provided to those who want to know more about what was found in the drugs.

Green Party Drug Law Reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick says it's a no-brainer.

"The work from OUSA is a massive, precedent-setting move. I think it's really important because taking alcohol or drugs is dangerous and comes with certain risks.

"If people want to minimise all risks they shouldn't be taking those substances, but that's not the world we live in so the best way we can reduce harm is provide these drug-checking services."

Police Minister Stuart Nash said in January that testing kits for drugs should be available at all music festivals by next summer.

Ms Swarbrick is encouraged by that.

"New Zealand is at a crossroads. We had Jacinda Ardern at the United Nations last year saying we want to see drugs treated as a health issue.

"We have an opportunity to continue down the track of failed drug policy which has only served to increase harm or we can be taking steps to minimise it here, and I think New Zealanders are largely onboard and responding favourably."

Know Your Stuff NZ made the checks over the 2017/18 summer period. It found 21 percent of the drugs people consumed weren't what they expected.

Just over half of these were something completely different, about a quarter had the presumed substance plus extra ingredients, and the rest couldn't be identified.