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Drug testing on the menu at Otago University O-Week

Students at the University of Otago will be able to separate the tinnys from the sinnyz this Orientation Week in a first-ever trial between OUSA and KnowYourStuff NZ.

This article first appeared in Critic Te Arohi, the University of Otago student magazine. 

The Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) will introduce drug testing for O-Week, the first time this service has been offered in New Zealand outside of music festivals.

“It’s all very well for people to say ‘just don’t take drugs, just don’t take them,’ but that doesn’t work,” says OUSA CEO Debbie Downs. “So the next best thing we can do is educate and put harm prevention strategies in place.”

A tent will be set up behind the OUSA Clubs and Societies building, where people can bring their substances and get them tested to ensure that they actually possess the drug they think they do, and not a potentially dangerous or unpleasant substitute.

The service will be run by KnowYourStuffNZ, a professional pill testing service, in conjunction with the New Zealand Drug Foundation. The ‘client’, or person getting the testing done, handles the drug at all times so that there is no question of possession or dealing on the part of OUSA or KnowYourStuffNZ.

The samples will be placed on a spectrometer, which analyses the substance against a database of 45,000 known substances, finding the best match for up to five different ingredients. Clients are then given harm reduction advice specific to the substances that have been detected. After that the client can make a decision on whether to discard the substance or not.

The process is not a 100% guarantee of safety. OUSA emphasises that the only way to be completely safe is to not take illegal substances at all.

Downs hopes that the space will be private and anonymous enough for people to feel comfortable using the service. “One of the reasons that we’re setting up in the space we are is that it’s a great safe space, it’s a controlled space, and it’s our own private property, so if there was any trouble we would be able to trespass people for example. I don’t think there will be. We will have security on site, but they’re there to look after the clients.”

Most students Critic spoke to were in favour of the service and said they would consider using the service.

“I think it’s super important especially when you have students who know nothing about these drugs just taking them without caution! I’d totally use this if I was unsure about something,” said one student.

Another said that “so many people were hospitalised at Electric Ave and lots of people that I know didn’t sleep for days and were real sick, so you gotta test that shit.”

Another said they “would probably rather take MD[MA] than paint thinners.”

“Yes gotta stay safe in this big bad breather world,” said another.

A police spokeswoman said that the “police’s focus continues to be on targeting organised criminal groups who manufacture and distribute harmful drugs to our communities.”

“Guided by the Policing Act 2008, the Solicitor-General’s prosecution guidelines, and Police’s Prevention First operating model, officers apply discretion on a daily basis in dealing with a range of matters, including the possession and use of drugs.

“Applying this discretion increasingly includes the use of alternative resolution options including pre-charge warnings, Te Pae Oranga, and referrals to health and other support services.

“However, the possession and use of illicit drugs remains illegal and prosecution remains an option in order to prevent harm and keep people safe.”

Downs hopes that proving that drug testing can be done successfully and safely will help drive legislation change.

“I would like to see this become accepted mainstream,” she says. “I hope this will be all done very successfully and show people that this can be done without incident and that it should be done. We’re in the perfect position to be able to be bold and do this first and show that this can be done and the legislation needs to be changed.”

“I have heard anecdotally that a lot of other people would do this if the legislation was changed but they feel the risk without this legislative change is too great. So we’re going out on a limb, but I feel that because of our place and what we do that we’re the kind of organisation that can do it.”

The testing will be available from the back of Otago University’s Clubs and Societies building at the following times:

Wednesday 20th Feb: 2pm – 6pm

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