A year of legal drug checking: A word from Wendy

After the temporary law was put in place last year, we saw a massive increase in demand. Unfortunately, neither of these things came with an increase in funding and we knew from the start that we wouldn’t be able to meet that demand. In fact, we had to turn down over 20 events this season. Despite this, we doubled the number of tests we carried out — which demonstrates the dedication of our volunteers and is a testament to what can be achieved on a shoestring.

However the reality is that we are unlikely to be able to meet the upcoming demand for next year without some serious funding. To put it in perspective, we currently have access to 4 spectrometers, but to cover New Years at all the events we are likely to be asked to attend, we would need at least 12 more. That kind of money doesn’t just fall out of the sky. We have applied for and successfully received 3 grants, but this is a drip in the ocean of what’s needed to meet demand.

This is without considering the national rollout of public drug checking clinics that the government has been alluding to. We are waiting to hear if the service will be funded while considering what that will mean for us. If no funding is forthcoming, we can always continue to provide the service at a level we can comfortably achieve. We are also in the process of seeking status as a charitable trust, which will allow us access to broader sources of funding.

It is likely that we won’t be on our own forever though. We’re talking with several groups who are keen to move into this space, and when the licencing regulations come online we expect that some of the slack will be taken up by these. The behind-the-scenes work is very much based around the harm reduction ethos and a desire for equitable access to drug checking for all Kiwis — so we can be certain it won’t be taken over by profiteering cowboys who don’t really care about the welfare of our clients.

Instead of hanging on to our current monopoly on drug checking, we are keen to facilitate and enable people to do this work for themselves, and will be working with these groups to help them put in place training and processes to set it up effectively for their own clientele.

In the meantime, we are working on continuing our growth and improving the efficiency of our service at festivals and events. This may mean we’ll be adopting a new service model that allows us to increase our throughput without sacrificing quality, and thus be more effective with the same amount of gear and people. We’ll update on this as it develops.

The permanent law was submitted to parliament for its first reading last week. It can be viewed on the legistlation.co.nz site: https://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2021/0034/latest/LMS493289.html
and you can follow its progress on the NZ Parliament website if you’re keen to make a submission:

On a personal note, speaking at the symposium at parliament was a peak moment for me, the culmination of 13 years in this field. I would like to think that our work has done something to move New Zealand away from archaic and stigmatised views of drug use, and opened the door for more of a harm reduction focus. We’ll see I guess.

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