Darroch Ball: Pill testing stations no answer to party drug use

Opinion 18/07/2019

By Darroch Ball, New Zealand First Spokesperson on Law and Order

University orientation weeks and music festivals are synonymous with illegal, non-addictive, recreational drug use. And with Uni ‘Re-O-Weeks’ in full swing across the country at the moment, we’ll see more parties and a sharp uptake of drug use and the abuse that comes with it.

There are some calling for the Government to back pill testing stations at festivals and O-Weeks in order to reduce this growing problem. Pill testing stations test a user’s party pill, typically MDMA, for contaminants.

Evidence shows that almost half of those who are told their pill has contaminants take it anyway.

MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy or ‘E’, is not an addictive drug. The people who have chosen to take it are using it purely for recreational purposes, fully aware of the risks. Pill testing is not the equivalent of a wet-room or needle exchange, used in the treatment of addicts. It is instead solely designed as a quality control mechanism to determine what contaminants, additives, or other chemicals are in the substance.

By testing one pill from one individual there is no way of knowing if anyone else is taking the pill, how many pills are being taken, or what other drugs, including alcohol, the user has consumed – all of which are major contributors to deaths caused by ecstasy.

Contrary to some arguments, this is not a “health based approach”, as the people who are taking the drug are not the ones being treated. It is the drug itself that is being tested for purity and additives, which does nothing to deter the users from taking it.

It seems as though we have almost given up trying to educate our young people, or to stop the drug-taking, and have instead opted to manage its use. Handing over a pamphlet and giving advice about drug use achieves nothing in the middle of a music festival.

Users know full well the dangers of the drug long before they bought it from the dealer.

We must reject the message from promoters of the testing stations that “they will do it anyway, let’s make it as safe as possible”. Would we create a separate “safe” lane on the motorway for drunk drivers because “we know people will drink and drive anyway”?

It seems incredible that we are not only allowing illegal drug use at festivals, and now on university campuses, but we are actively normalising it and creating an open market for the drug dealers, as testing stations are not held responsible in the eyes of the law.

The intent of the pill testing stations is commendable, but we need to use some common sense when addressing this issue and not rely on ideology and rhetoric. Ultimately, drug users need to take personal responsibility for their choices and live with the consequences.

Darroch Ball is New Zealand First Spokesperson on Law and Order