It’s one of the scariest trends to come out of the current addiction crisis. People fatally overdosing on drugs that are laced with dangerous substances like fentanyl. These are instances where a user thinks they’re buying a standard batch of painkillers (or even cocaine), but are in fact receiving a mixture that is much more deadly. Interestingly, officials in New Zealand are looking to combat this; by allowing “street narcotics” to be legally tested, to ensure the substances are what they say they are.
The New York Times recently covered this progressive movement, which isn’t too different from proposals like safe injection sites. The overall concept is simple. Yes, these people have a problem and are intending to use anyway. So why not at least give them the option of ensuring they won’t overdose because of a laced batch?
Times writer Natasha Frost broke out the concept quite well in her piece. The New Zealand initiative is being deemed a “one year experiment” where drug users with illegal substances can have those substances tested without penalty. Testers will not call the police and if the batches are deemed to be laced with dangerous chemicals, they can be disposed of appropriately to avoid an overdose.
Perhaps the saddest (and scariest) component of this is the fact that many NZ testing sites have already uncovered dangerous mixtures, particularly when it comes to the drug ecstasy. According to The Times article, more than half of the substances brought in contained chemical combinations that were not what the user expected.
Sarah Helm, director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, spoke to The Times about the project and the benefits that they are hoping to offer with this program. Similar to the safe injection sites promoted in the U.S., these confidential testing stations will be equipped with counselors and recovery personnel; in case the person may be looking for a way to beat their addiction. Beyond that, though, safety is the primary concern.
“It’s really hard to get any advice aside from dodgy tips from your friends or something you’ve picked up online,” Helms explained. “There’s not enough reliable advice, information and support for people who are using substances to make these safety judgement calls themselves. So we’re putting people at unnecessary risk.”
The overall success of the program still remains to be seen. According to the article, there is still plenty of doubt from users about whether these testing sites are trustworthy. And, truth be told, New Zealand has not seen a sharp decline in fatal overdoses since this program began. But, in our opinion, it is a step in the right direction and one that will hopefully save lives.