The resistance to drug testing from the NZ First spokesperson for law and order could have severe consequences, writes the team at KnowYourStuffNZ.
OPINION: For five years KnowYourStuffNZ has been carrying out drug checking at festivals. In that time, we have helped thousands of festival-goers to make safer and more informed decisions. We help people avoid the most dangerous drugs and, if they choose to use a substance, we help them to be safer.
- Free drug testing for Otago University students at Orientation week
- Festival drug testing finds more new psychoactive substances than ever
- 13 hospitalised in Christchurch after taking drugs they thought were MDMA
We have had huge support from punters, festival organisers, medics, police, MPs from both sides of Parliament, three prime ministers, and the Minister of Police Stuart Nash.
Seemingly the only person who doesn't like us is Darroch Ball. He's the law and order spokesperson for New Zealand First. He's blocking changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act that would support a national rollout of drug checking.
The police minister's plan to legalise pill testing at summer festivals has been delayed because NZ First says it encourages drug use. Speaking to TVNZ on Sunday, Ball said: "We're being very reactionary if we think that it's OK to start saving lives or to start protecting people after the drug has been taken or after the drug has been purchased."
Ball thinks that people should suffer if they break the law, even if that means they die from taking a pill. Ball thinks his moral stance is more important than kids' lives. We think that's reprehensible.
Ball thinks drug checking doesn't work, ignoring 20 years of experience in Europe and five years of our work in New Zealand. That evidence is clear - drug checking reduces risky behaviour and the harm from drug use.
In a survey of KnowYourStuffNZ clients this summer, 87 percent of people who had previously used our service said they had changed their approach to drugs as a result of drug checking. The percentage of people who choose not to take a substance that has tested as not what it's supposed to be is increasing each year - this year it was 62 percent. Even those who choose to take drugs after drug checking say they will do so more carefully, by taking a smaller amount or by avoiding mixing with alcohol for example.
Overseas, research published in 2018 shows that at the UK's Secret Garden party, hospitalisations reduced by 95 percent when drug checking was provided. And reviews of drug checking services in Europe in 2001 and again in 2017 found that drug checking combined with the type of counselling we provide can not only change the behaviour of individual drug users, but can provide critical information about dangerous drugs in the market to the authorities and large numbers of people in the form of drug alerts.
Ball thinks that drug checking normalises and condones drug-taking. That horse has already bolted with 80 percent of young New Zealanders admitting to trying illegal substances. There is also no evidence from studies over the last twenty years to suggest that drug checking leads to increases in drug use. We've told Ball this, but he ignores the evidence and continues to push this line.
Currently, the law around drug checking is unclear, that's stopping us from providing our service at New Zealand's largest festivals. We want that law clarified, as does Nash. The blockage for that legal change isn't New Zealand First. The blockage is Ball. And his statement couldn't have come at a worse moment.
High-dose MDMA pills containing many times the standard dose have killed a number of young people in the UK and Australia in the last year. KnowYourStuffNZ's data shows that these pills are widely available in New Zealand as well. It is only a matter of time before one of Aotearoa's young people dies. When that happens, Ball will have blood on his hands.
This piece was authored for KnowYourStuffNZ by Wendy Allison, Jez Weston, Rhiannon Davies, and Yvonne Booysen.