The government of New Zealand is making a bold move. The country is embracing the idea of allowing penalty-free pill testing at music festivals. Stuart Nash, police Minister of New Zealand, recently said that testing drugs for purity is a “fantastic idea and should be installed at all our festivals.”
Harm reduction solutions for dirty drugs appeared in New Zealand’s news this month after MDMA pills containing pesticides and paint were found at the annual Rhythm and Vines Festival.
“The war on drugs hasn’t worked in the past 20 years, so it’s time to change to a more compassionate and restorative approach. If someone is dealing, they will be taken through the justice system. But if it was someone who has one or two pills, you don’t want them to get a criminal record for a bad decision,” Nash told Stuff.
In an interview with RadioLive, Nash said, ”We can be all high and mighty and moral about this, and we’ll still have young people ending up in hospital, still taking drugs.”
Neighboring Australia has seen similar problems this year, with five drug-related festival deaths in less than as many months. However, politicians in Australia are more reluctant to get on board with a harm reduction policy. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been opposed to pill testing for years and continues to insist that there is no proof the practice saves lives, despite the recent deaths.
“If there was a way in which we could ensure that lives were saved through pill testing we would consider it – but there is no evidence provided to the government on that,” Berejiklian said.
Victorian Premier Tim Pallas suggested that drug testing may actually encourage people to take drugs. “It would create a false sense of security if essentially we were allowing people to access pill testing rather than say ‘don’t take illicit drugs’,” Pallas said.
However, experts say that allowing people to test drugs for safety will not increase use because people who are going to take drugs are going to take them anyway. The practice of testing simply ensures that people know they are about to take exactly what they are expecting to take.
Alison Ritter, drug policy expert from the University of New South Wales, told ABC that there is no evidence that testing stations encourage or increase drug use.
“We know that it doesn’t produce an increase in drug use, and there’s no evidence of harm associated with pill testing,” Ritter said. “What’s clear from the results of the services operating (in Europe) is that people make different choices based on the results of the testing — some choose to put their drugs into an amnesty bin, others choose to take half as much as perhaps they thought they would.”
Allowing festival attendees to test drugs for adulterants without fear of prosecution eliminates that worry, a worry that wouldn’t exist in the first place if it wasn’t for prohibition.
One of the greatest dangers of taking black market drugs is that the user never knows the exact dose or potency of the drug. While this does not discourage people from taking drugs, it does make it virtually impossible to take the drugs responsibly. This fact is abundantly clear when looking at the current opiate crisis in the United States. Overdoses are on the rise primarily because of Fentanyl a powerful pharmaceutical that heroin is often cut with.
Heroin addicts know that there is a chance they will be getting a deadly batch of fentanyl in their heroin, but that will not stop them from using. However, if they were able to test the batch before using and it was shown to contain fentanyl, it is very likely that it would prevent them from using, or at the very least cause them to be much more careful.
There actually are testing options available for fentanyl now. A number of different companies are selling test strips that detect the deadly drug.
If you or someone you know has use for fentanyl testing strips, you can find them at Dance Safe.