Funding to test drugs at festivals lifesaver

Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand

New funding for drug-checking services at festivals is a Green Party win that will save lives. However the Government needs to go further, faster and expand these lifesaving services.

“The funding announced today for drug-checking services at festivals will save lives,” Green Party Drug Reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick said today.

“However, it’s just a start. Drug checking services should be available to whoever needs them wherever they’re needed, not subject to annual Government funding decisions. There must be funding for community-level drug checking, like we’ve had since the 1980s when we first introduced needle exchange services.

“It’s ludicrous to pretend drug consumption only happens at music festivals and not also bars, clubs and weekend parties. Those on the front line are the first to admit gatekeeping their services to only ticketed, expensive events limits harm reduction. Everyone who needs these services should have access.

“Governments have spent nearly 50 years hammering criminal prohibition just to watch harm rise as substances and their users, are pushed further underground. Coronial Reports out of New South Wales tell us young peoples’ lives in Australia could have been saved with these services. Two NZ Government-commissioned reports from last term asked our Government to just get on with overhauling drug law entirely. The Greens support action that recognises that reality and legislates on a real evidence base,” Chlöe Swarbrick says.

The Green Party proposes $3 million annually to fund drug checking services both for festivals and for permanent sites. This would match the commitment to Needle Exchange Services – funded by Governments of all stripes for the last 40 years – which have been so wildly successful that Aotearoa New Zealand has among the lowest rates of HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users.

“In 2019, I tabled a petition which was supported by over 6000 New Zealanders to legalise drug-checking services in time for that summer season. After the 2020 election, the Government finally introduced that legislation, which is now about to be made permanent. All of this builds on several years of thankless work from community organisers and volunteers, particularly those at Know Your Stuff, who literally risked jail time to build the local evidence base for these laws.

“We won’t give up until harm reduction is the default, instead of the exception, and the Misuse of Drugs Act is overhauled for law that actually achieves its stated aims, instead of sweeping problems under the rug.”

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