In a world-first, last week New Zealand’s government approved legislation made to protect drug checking, a service that saves lives by chemically testing illicit drugs to scan them for dangerous contaminants. The legislation is expected to pass into law as soon as next week.
“We’re the first country to specifically make legislation to protect drug checking,” explained Wendy Allison, the managing director of drug-checking organization KnowYourStuffNZ. Other countries, like the Netherlands and Portugal, have had continual drug-checking services for years, but many operate in a legal grey zone. New Zealand’s new law, on the other hand, recognizes and protects the practice.
“There are a number of countries that have been doing it under various different formats for a lot of different years. In the US and in the UK… They all operate in a legal grey area, that they’re not explicitly illegal. In the Netherlands, it is supported, but it’s not legislated to protect the people who do it or the clients,” Allison added. “That’s the difference here, is that we now have legislation that facilitates it.”
The new legislation also allocates $800,000 in government funding to legitimize drug testing services across the country.
“This legislation is about keeping people safe,” said the New Zealand health minister Andrew Little in a statement. “The drug-checking services we have had running have detected and intercepted potentially deadly substances circulating in the community.”
Allison is aware that the conservative approach is to tell people to simply not take drugs, “but it’s plainly obvious that that is not stopping people from doing it,” she said. “What we do is provide more information that helps people assess the risks more accurately—and in a lot of cases that is making people approach drugs more safely, whether that be not taking them at all, or taking less, or not taking them with other substances.”