By Todd Harper
Mar 11, 2019

Taking Pills + Papers

An investigation on drug testing on campus

Drugs and students have gone together since the pairing of Marmite and $1 loaves of bread. With a recent controversial move from the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA), Otago students were able to check any substance that they intended to take for harmful poisons, as part of their 2019 O-Week plans last week.

The drug testing during the four days of O Week in Otago was set up in conjunction with KnowYourStuffNZ and the New Zealand Drug Foundation. Would a move like this at the University of Waikato actually work? Or would it just be seen as a box tick, and be rejected by the student body?

Waikato Students’ Union President Nathan Rahui says if the WSU was going to implement a similar initiative it needs to be done properly and safely for all involved.
“Drug testing is something that is becoming more common at different events and gigs these days, with the ultimate reason being safety for those that are taking them. With OUSA hosting their own concerts, they saw a strong need to implement this initiative. We have so many different support services here at Waikato, so if this is something that adds an extra element of safety for our students, then it could be something we look at.

The WSU always have our safety zone each year that looks after hundreds of students enjoying O-Week festivities in town, so we also want to make sure we continue what we are already doing well.”

The University of Otago has said in a statement released to media that they did not endorse the illegal use of drugs, or the drug testing initiative.

“The university made areas of its campus available to OUSA for its welfare work during Orientation Week.”

OUSA offered drug testing from a car park on Albany St, in the heart of Dunedin's student quarter from Wednesday until Saturday during O Week

Anyone who wanted to test a substance they intend to take could do so by providing a small sample.

The OUSA Chief Executive Debbie Downs said OUSA does not condone drug use in any way but it’s important that we realise consistent drug harm prevention is needed.

"If we can't stop the intent to use, step two is to educate and inform to reach the same objective.
We would like to see this available at all events in future.”
With the rise in reported ‘drug-lacing’ cases across the country, is it time to look at a similar initiative here at Waikato? Rahui said he could personally support a move towards a similar initiative in the future, but would want to ensure that there is an equal level of support and information to help those that may have problems with addiction.

“I think that regardless of what we may think, people are going to take drugs. Simple. With the number of chemicals going into drugs and the stories we hear of another life being lost to substances that have been laced, it's important that those that are using know what they are taking. I've seen the effects of unsafe drugs and the impact they have on those around them, so I support safe drug use.

Some things that we may need to consider if this initiative was ever implemented are:

1. Making sure the systems in place to test drugs are carried out professionally.

2. People wanting to test feel that it is a safe place to do so, free of judgment.

3. That there are also solid support systems in place to inform and help those that may want help if their drug use is becoming too frequent.”

The central champion of this initiative is the New Zealand Drug Foundation. Drug Foundation director Ross Bell said people aged between 18-25 have the highest rate of illicit drug use.

“The reputation of Otago made it the ideal place to start drug checking. People aged between 18-25 had the highest rate of illicit drug use, with ‘not a lot of discerning about what it is they are putting in their mouths’.
That risk factor, coupled with more potent drugs meant drug testing was a simple solution to prevent potential health issues. The best way to find out what was being sold in Otago was to test.”

Future implementation of any similar initiatives could be stalled, as it currently can’t be publicly stated that drug-testing kits are available at venues, due to the Misuse of Drugs Act making it illegal to knowingly permit drug use at any premises.


Do our students support drug testing on campus?

Kane (DipSci)
Yes, because it could be dodgy. You never know what could be in them.

Ben (BSctech)
Yes, because it’ll be more safe and anonymous.

Matt (DipArts)
Students know exactly what they’re getting into. Keeps students safe.

Te Maire (BSocSc)
Cool. Students will always do want they want to do. If it’s safe and has perimeters, it will be a positive thing.

Olivia (BSC)
50/50. On one hand, it’s promoting safe drug use. But is it promoting drug use in general?

Prag (BMS)
It’s positive. It keeps people safe. They’re gonna do it regardless.

Srishtika (BMS hons)
Positive move. But I question whether it would be a successful thing. I think it is worth trying out.

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