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‘Public Interest’ Amendment To Drug Law Needed To Hasten Future Harm Reduction Initiatives


The New Zealand Drug Foundation is calling for a
‘public interest’ exemption to be added to the
country’s drug laws to enable quicker and easier
establishment of future harm reduction initiatives that
could save lives. 

The Foundation’s Executive
Director, Sarah Helm, made the call today during a
submission in support of the Drug and Substance Checking
Bill – new legislation that will permanently legalise drug
checking.

“The Drug Foundation supports this
world-first legislation,” says Helm. “While drug
checking has been happening in other parts of the world, no
other country has created dedicated legislation and
regulations to enable it. We can be proud.”

In
Canada, harm reduction programmes such as drug checking and
supervised injecting sites were able to be introduced under
a ‘public interest’ clause in the country’s existing
laws. The clause allows the government to make an exemption
to the country’s drug law if they deem it in the ‘public
interest’.

“Our drug laws are broken and don’t
allow for harm reduction measures. Our two proudest and most
effective drug interventions, Needle Exchange and drug
checking, have both required special legislative exceptions
to be made and both operated in a legal grey area
beforehand,” says Helm.

“A ‘public interest’
clause in the Misuse of Drugs Act would be a simple way that
we can ensure future harm reduction and potentially
life-saving initiatives are able to be rolled out quickly
and easily.”

“Rather than going through a lengthy
legislative process each time we want to establish a new
initiative, a ‘public interest’ clause would enable the
Director General of Health to make the call following a
scientific approval process. This would mean future
initiatives, such as overdose prevention centres or the
provision of safer using equipment as alternatives to
injecting like pipes, would be much easier
to implement.”

In their submission to the Health
Select Committee, the Foundation voiced its strong support
for the Drug and Substance Checking Bill and congratulated
the Government for introducing legislation to clarify the
legal status of drug checking – an essential harm reduction
service that saves lives.

Helm says the Foundation
would like to see drug checking services greatly expanded to
ensure equitable access for anyone across Aotearoa who would
benefit, run by a range of service
providers. 

“Legalising drug checking means
services can be expanded to reach more people, which is
crucial,” says Helm. “Current services aren’t reaching
enough New Zealanders. The main drug checking services are
only able to be in a maximum of three places at a time
currently because we only have access to three
spectrometers, the machines used to test
substances.”

Helm says that currently people who are
using methamphetamine, who inject drugs or who use synthetic
cannabinoids are not able to access drug
checking.

“More funding and proactive provision of
drug checking is needed to ensure that people who are most
at-risk are able to access this vital service. We want to
see drug checking made available at Needle Exchanges, in
community centres and in many other places.”

Helm
says one of the vital components of drug-checking is the
harm reduction advice given while drugs are being checked.
This kind of advice isn’t generally available anywhere
else, and the Foundation is calling for that to be a
mandatory requirement of selected
providers.

“Funding must be made available to buy
more spectrometers, improve access and ensure harm reduction
advice can be provided wherever drug checking takes
place.”

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