ESR is partnering with the Drug Foundation and other agencies to reduce harm from illegal drugs this summer.
The aim is to train partners in the use of reagents and field equipment to provide on-the-spot testing of substances.
"The drug-checking initiative is a great collaboration," said Hannah Partington, team leader drug chemistry at ESR.
"From ESR's perspective, it is about ensuring the wellbeing of the New Zealand community. Drug checking plays a vital role in keeping people safe.
"Drug checking gives an individual access to scientifically test a sample to understand its composition and depending on the result, be able to receive the relevant harm reduction advice to make an informed decision on whether or not to use, or how to use that substance."
The process is entirely anonymous and the information is useful not only to the person wanting to potentially take the substance but also to help authorities understand what's out in the community.
Ben Birks Ang, deputy director in charge of programmes at the NZ Drug Foundation, says the combined testing using reagents and the FTIR spectrometer can detect whether the sample being tested contains the expected substance and also whether there is anything else, potentially harmful, present.
"Drug checking is a great health offering that hasn't been present in New Zealand to date," he said. "We have great treatment services but they work with people at the extremes of drug harm.
We know from the NZ drug survey that there is a big proportion of people who don't end up addicted to substances but are still at risk of overdosing or having an unexpected experience that means they could need medical attention."
A law change this year has meant that there is a lot more room to allow drug checking as a health service. The Ministry of Health has contracted different providers for drug checking: Know Your Stuff, The Drug Foundation, ESR and Needle Exchange are all approved providers.
"The service will be really useful to help the individuals to know what is in these substances and to have discussions and advice on harm reduction but also to help the system know what is out there and put medical teams on the front foot should they have to attend a drug-connected event," Birks Ang said.
"We hope we can help reduce the number of people needing medical attention and also to help improve the speed and efficiency of any response that is required."
Partington said, "The drug world is forever evolving, so it's quite a hard thing to predict. Last summer was a great example of how valuable drug checking is: there were people who thought they had a substance that turned out not to be and it was related to serious harm events.
"My hope is that this service will deliver that support and advice to people with scientific testing and harm reduction (advice) and this summer will benefit from that."