Watch: What it's like getting your drugs checked in New Zealand

The way in which we have seen drug use in New Zealand has changed over the years. 

Historically in the late 19th century, it wasn't uncommon for mothers to give their sick children syrups that contained opium. Curing any alignment from a common cold to toothache. 

In the 1930s patients with asthma and bronchitis could buy cigarettes that contained cannabis. 

These are things that seem very out of place today. But historically some drugs that are illegal today were seen as medicines to treat what ails you. New Zealand didn't have a huge problem with recreational drug use. Our laws were changed to align us internationally with our prohibitionist counterparts. 

We are only very lightly skimming the surface of a highly complex issue with many years of history. 

As we look for a new constructive health-based approach to drug use. Even though Aotearoa is an isolated island it doesn't stop drugs from flowing across its borders into the hands of Kiwis all across the country. No matter how many police press conferences and photo ops show off the latest bust on the front page. The fact is it does nothing to stop the reality that someone somewhere in the country is using drugs right now. 

What we can control is whether drug users are safe or not. As we've seen recently with the increase of cases of people overdosing on fentanyl-containing powders

This is exactly what services like Drug Checking offer. A safe legal place for people to bring their drugs and test them to see if exactly what they're taking is what they think it is. 

Alongside this, they get access to information about safer ways to use their drugs Phil Glaser the Harm Reduction Manager for the Drug Foundation said.

"Drug checking is a health service that we offer at the Drug Foundation, where people can bring their drugs, it's free, confidential and legal, the police, they're supportive of what we do and they make sure that when we're running clinics that they stay away from the area because they don't want people to feel uncomfortable."

When Newshub visited Glaser he tested a sample that the person thought was MDMA but once tested came back positive for cocaine. 

Phil said: "It's good for them to know because if they're taking this as MDMA, then they might end up taking a very different amount because often dosage rates are very different between MDMA and cocaine. "

Glaser added, "We often find that the substance that people bring isn't what they thought it was. So one in three people bringing in their substance end up having a substance that is either completely different or has what they thought it was with something else."

Users can purchase their own kits from places like Cosmic to test their drugs by themselves.

However, they are often not as accurate as the machine used by the Drug Foundation. Sometimes the danger comes when the substance contains the drug plus something else. Glaser said: "That means that if they brought MDMA and it ended up being MDMA and a synthetic cathinone which is what they call bath salts. then it can end up giving them really negative effects that they weren't expecting."

Glen Hoult the event risk manager for St John said they've seen a big increase in people taking drugs that aren't what they thought. 

"We've seen a big increase in people taking drugs that they think is MDMA for example or maybe cocaine and they're actually adulterated with other substances like eutylone or like fentanyl and we've actually seen in the past few weeks, there's been 12 people who were hospitalized with being seriously unwell because they took a drug they thought was something and it was something else.’

Cases like this are a stark reminder of the dangers that users face when choosing not to check their drugs. But since the legalisation of drug checking and the expansion beyond the festival space St John has noticed a difference. 

"There's no question that since the legislation changed to allow drug checking, there's been a significant reduction in the amount of people that present to St John, particularly at major events where drugs have been a factor," Hoult said. 

With drug checking looking to become a staple all around the country, the logistical side can be a challenge. 

"There's quite a lot of clinics going on at the moment around the country. So we have three different providers, there's know your stuff us at the drug foundation and the needle exchange and so we're running all different services. We share machines so that's kind of our biggest restriction at the moment is that the machines are expensive," Glaser told Newshub. 

"We only have a handful and we need to ship them around the country to make sure that we can run clinics so we would love to run more clinics but that is our biggest limitation. But we have them available on our drug checking calendar which you can find on the level website."

As for the future, Glaser said a harm reduction approach is the way to go.

"It's giving them the space where they can feel like, 'Hey, you're not a, you're not a criminal, you're not a bad person for wanting to do drugs, you're a human being and it's okay to think about what you're putting in your body'. 

"We would like to see more health-based approaches for drugs so that we can kind of have a health-based approach and then decrease criminal penalties for drugs or remove criminal penalties for drugs so that people who are using drugs are given the support they need instead of prosecution."