Drug checking - allowing students to check the substance they intend to take - is being carried out at the University of Otago this week, as part of Orientation Week, the students' association has announced.
Otago University Students' Association along with with KnowYourStuffNZ and New Zealand Drug Foundation, have announced that drug checking will be conducted over four days as part of OUSA Orientation 2019.
The process will involve interested participants providing a small sample of the substance they intend to ingest, for testing.
Results are given, and harm reduction counselling provided.
This is a free of charge service.
OUSA CEO Debbie Downs described the move as "bold and pre-emptive".
"OUSA in no way condones drug use of any kind, but in the day and age we live in, we are cognizant of the need for harm prevention. If we can't stop the intent to use, step two is to educate and inform to reach the same objective."
The move comes after Critic Te Arohi student magazine reported last year that OUSA proposals for testing during Re:Ori had failed to get the backing of the university.
The testing will be a trial for future drug checking at events.
"For those still choosing to use the testing site, and process, provides a conducive and safe environment," Downs said.
"Data collected from previous testing clearly shows that people would rather discard than use once they have been informed. This means drugs are destroyed, with potential hospital cases avoided."
OUSA first started investigating the concept of drug checking in 2018, after discussions around their Harm Prevention policies. The partnership between KnowYourStuff and OUSA was formed in late 2018, and KnowYourStuff exists to reduce drug-related harm at festivals and events.
The organisation has been providing drug checking for 5 years and in that time the data shows that it has had a significant impact on people's decisions about intended drug use.
Currently drug checking is widely practiced in Europe, the United States, the UK and Australia. People wanting to test drugs will take samples to the testing site, where they
would be talked through the test.
They would handle drugs at all times, so there was no question of possession or dealing on the part of OUSA or KnowYourStuff.
The results of samples would be discussed with the client, after the screening process.
"We are trying to source an FT-IR spectrometer for the event, ensuring this technology is more widely available is a key are for future funding," Downs said.
New Zealand Drug Foundation spokesman Samuel Andrews said more than half of all New Zealanders had tried an illicit drug at some point in their life.
"This is more commonly cannabis, but shows that we need to work from a point that acknowledges some people will decide to use drugs," Andrews said,
The Drug Foundation entered into OUSA conversations and action plans at the start of 2019.
"OUSA has taken careful and in-depth consideration in the decision to drug check, and applauds alternative efforts.
"Just Say No' approaches are no longer effective. The responsibility rests with organisations such as ourselves to engage with KnowYourStuff and New Zealand Drug Foundation to take a proactive stance in drug use and harm prevention," Downs said.