Astonishing results from free testing of illicit drugs at festivals
Many festival-goers take drugs. But last summer, a significant number decided against it after being told the drug they were about to take was not what they thought.
During the summer festival season, community group KnowYourStuffNZ tested over three hundred illicit drugs using infrared spectroscopy at eight music festivals and found that thirty one percent (31%) of the samples were not as presumed. When the drug was not at all what they expected, over half said they planned not to use it, potentially averting serious harm.
KnowYourStuffNZ spokesperson Wendy Allison said she and other members of the festival community started the free service in 2014, after a festival medic told her someone would die if nothing was done to reduce the risk of harm from adulterated drugs.
“We run this service so that people can make informed choices about their drug use, because that information could keep them alive.”
Allison said more support from the public and from law makers would enable all New Zealand festivals to offer free testing of recreational drugs, which is currently being carried out in a legal grey area.
Today, New Zealanders were invited to support a PledgeMe campaign which will fund a second drug testing spectrometer to be used at festivals. Donations will fund a more widespread, free service. It’s also a way to demonstrate support for the law changes required to remove the grey area.
Allison said festival goers usually believed they possessed the popular recreational drugs MDMA or LSD, but testing sometimes revealed potentially more dangerous substances. Thirty-nine (39) distinct psychoactive substances were identified in total.
“Without drug checking, people go to events and use drugs which they purchase illicitly with no assurances that what they have is what they think it is, or what quality and strength it is. So, they take a massive additional risk on something we now have the technology to address.”
There have been several drug-related deaths at music festivals around the world in recent years.
Ross Bell, Executive Director of the NZ Drug Foundation, said the legal grey area exists because the legislation around drug use is obsolete.
“Presently the Misuse of Drugs Act leaves open the possibility that volunteers who’re testing people’s drugs, or festival organisers trying to keep people safe may be seen to be momentarily in possession of drugs or facilitating illegal drug use and therefore breaking the law.”
Bell said the Government’s approach of criminalising drug use without taking steps to reduce harm when people use them anyway is not only out of date, it is unethical.
“Arguably, the current drug laws do more harm to New Zealanders than the drugs themselves.”
The free testing service is provided by KnowYourStuffNZ in partnership with the NZ Drug Foundation, which helped by purchasing the first spectrometer. The expensive equipment can detect the presence of thousands of substances, from mundane to potentially life threatening.