Drug checking

Information about drug checking services and service providers.

What is drug checking?

Drug checking services conduct scientific tests on substances in order to indicate their likely identity and composition. Services test unknown substances (which may be illicit drugs), interpret results, and provide harm reduction information to a person who provides a sample.

Drug checking services aim to reduce risk and harm by helping people make informed decisions about drug use. It does not promote illicit drug use or claim that illicit drug use is safe.

Drug checking must be free of charge for all individuals.

Legal framework for drug checking

Drug checking is regulated under amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, Psychoactive Substances Act 2013, the Medicines Act 1981, and relevant regulations under those Acts. Permanent drug checking licensing under amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 allows licensed drug checking providers to legally possess illicit drugs for drug checking purposes. These amendments can be viewed on the New Zealand Legislation website through the following links.

If there is a breach of any terms or condition of a drug checking licence, the offender is liable for a fine of up to $5,000, and the licence may be cancelled.

The penalty for a person (or entity) undertaking drug checking without a licence is $20,000.

Drug Checking Licensing Scheme

The Ministry of Health’s Drug Checking Licensing Scheme regulates licenced service providers and is responsible for:

  • licensing new providers
  • renewing licences
  • suspending, and cancelling licences
  • imposing, amending and revoking licence conditions
  • managing reviews of licensing decisions
  • managing complaints
  • monitoring the compliance of drug checking service providers.

Organisations or individuals may apply for licensing if they consider they meet the suitability requirements of the relevant Acts, and their regulations.

Applicants must demonstrate how they meet (or intend to meet) the functions of a drug checking service provider as specified in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

The licence term is for a maximum of three years. This term may be shorter at the discretion of the Director-General of Health. To apply, download the Drug Checking licensing application form. Complete the application form and submit this with all supporting documentation to: [email protected].

There are no application fees.

Evaluation of the Drug and Substance Checking Legislation

The Drug Checking Licensing Scheme have received funding from the Ministry of Health’s Research and Evaluation Fund for an evaluation of the Drug and Substance Checking Legislation. This work aims to determine the impact of our world leading drug checking legislation to:

  • inform strategic policy and/or legislative changes,
  • strengthen service delivery, and
  • set up robust long-term monitoring practices.

This evaluation will examine whether the implementation of the Drug and Substance Checking amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and the Misuse of Drugs (Drugs and Substance Checking Service Providers) Regulations 2022 have resulted in a reduction of drug harm related incidence across New Zealand. The evaluation will employ a co-design approach. This co-design approach will involve working in collaboration with stakeholders to incorporate a wide range of expertise and experience.

The Ministry received nine proposals from suppliers who were interested in the evaluation contract opportunity. Following a robust evaluation panel process, the Ministry of Health selected Ihi Research as the preferred supplier. For any queries regarding the evaluation, please contact Catherine Leonard at [email protected]

Approved service delivery models

The service delivery models listed below are currently approved models for use by providers. The Director-General will specify which service delivery model each provider is approved to use in their licensing notification letter.

Table 1: Approved service delivery models

Service Delivery Model

Definition

Festivals/field events service delivery model

A service delivery model that involves a drug checking setup at an external event or festival (eg, a music festival, a University O-Week or other large organised event).

Note – to be a festival/event delivery model, drug checking must be occurring physically at the event site and be approved by event organisers. If drug checking is occurring at a separate location to the event, this is considered a pop-up clinic.

Low-contact/drop-off service delivery model

A service delivery model that involves a drug checking setup entailing less contact (eg, an individual drops off samples for checking and initial harm reduction information, then receives their results with harm reduction advice online later).

Note – this will usually occur from the provider’s permanent location but may be run out of a pop-up location if required. It is a breach of the legislation for this service to occur at a residential premise, or at an unlicensed premise without a licensed provider physically present on site.

Satellite/pop-up clinic service delivery model

A service delivery model that involves a drug checking setup at any location that is not a static clinic location and is not a festival/event (eg, a short-term rented empty space, another entities office, or a tent in an outdoor location/park).

Note – pop-ups can either be one-off clinics, or repeated clinics that are held irregularly (less than once per month).

Static clinic/commercial premises service delivery model

A service delivery model that involves a drug checking setup at a location that is regularly used by the provider. This could be the provider’s office or other location (eg, a hall or other space for use) regularly used for drug checking.

To be considered a static clinic, it must occur at least once per month, for a minimum of 6 consecutive months.

Mobile clinic service delivery model

A service delivery model that involves a drug checking setup run out of a vehicle (eg, a van).

Continuous service delivery model

A service delivery model that involves drug checking occurring from a fixed location, on a near-permanent or continuous basis.

To be a continuous delivery model, drug checking must occur during an existing service’s usual business hours, allowing drug checking to be available to clients whenever they are at the service, subject to testing equipment availability. A continuous service delivery model would be expected to be available, at a minimum, 3 days per week, subject to spectrometer availability.

Research Project

A service model where drug checking is performed as a component of a research project (eg, through a University or other institution).

NB: All service delivery models may be recategorized by the drug checking licensing team on a case-by-case basis or at their discretion.

If an applicant or licensed provider wishes to use a service delivery model not on the approved list, or wishes to use a model not licensed for, they will need to satisfy the Director-General that the model is safe to implement and fit for its intended purpose. Applicants and licensed providers must show their workforce is competent to use a service delivery model before they will receive approval. New models can only be used by a licensed provider once written approval is received from the drug checking licensing team and the provider is licensed to do so.

To submit a new service delivery model for approval, email evidence that it is safe to implement and fit for purpose to: [email protected].

Information required for service model approval includes:

  • a description of the service delivery model and how it would be implemented
  • evidence of  worker competence or plan to achieve competence, in the use of this service delivery model
  • workforce training expectations which apply to this service delivery model,
  • any risks associated with implementation of this service delivery model
  • an explanation of how the implementation of this service delivery model would increase equity of service
  • what considerations would be given to increasing accessibility to people using the service
  • any other information which you consider relevant to why the proposed service model is suitable.

Approved drug checking testing methods

The methods listed below are approved as suitable drug checking methods for use by providers. The Director-General will specify which technology and testing methods that each provider is approved to use in their licensing notification letter. New methods can only be used once written approval is received from the drug checking licensing team.

Drug checking service providers are required to use a range of testing methodologies and equipment to carry out comprehensive, high-quality drug checking activities in line with best practice. When drug checking is provided, it is expected that services have access to equipment and testing methodologies from the below approved methods list to ensure a comprehensive, quality service is delivered for people presenting drugs for testing. This includes access to current drug libraries associated with each specific spectrometer.

Reagent testing as a stand-alone service does not meet the intent of the legislation with regard to providing a high-quality drug checking service (with the exception of approved stand-alone methods stated in table 2). The use of reagent testing alone may increase a person’s risk of serious harm. A reagent test may identify a single drug (eg, MDMA) when a substance also contains a drug of greater risk (eg, eutylone).

Table 2 outlines methods (equipment and reagents/test strips) that are suitable to be used for drug checking. Table 3 outlines methods that may be used only in conjunction with an approved equipment method from table 2 (equipment subsection).

Table 2: Approved technology and testing methods

Equipment

Method/technology name

Notes

Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer

Suitable for the field.

Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) bench instrument

Not suitable for field.

Quick probe GC-MS bench instrument

Not suitable for field.

Liquid Chromatography with tandem Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS-MS) bench instrument

Not suitable for field.

Liquid Chromatography Quadrupole Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry (LC-QTOF-MS) bench instrument

Not suitable for field.

Liquid Chromatography with Hybrid Triple Quadrupole Linear Ion Trap Spectrometers (LC-QTrap-MS-MS) bench instrument

Not suitable for field.

Gas Chromatography with tandem Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS-MS) bench instrument

Not suitable for field.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), portable and laboratory instruments Not suitable for field.
High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) Not suitable for field. 
  For cannabis plant material and cannabinoid products For LSD and Psilocybin
  Results to include THC and/or CBD only and must be reported as a percentage (whole number or percentage range). Results to include the substance detected and the dosage must be reported as a percentage (whole number or percentage range).
Stand-alone reagents and test strips

Method/technology name

Notes

Ehrlich’s test either commercial or prepared by an appropriately accredited laboratory.

Ehrlich’s test is approved as a stand-alone test for paper doses of LSD.

Lysergamide Test Strips Lysergamide Test Strips are approved as a stand-alone test for LSD.

Fentanyl Test Strips

Fentanyl Test Strips are approved as a stand-alone test for fentanyl.

Table 3: Other approved methods with additional conditions

These methods are approved for use only when in conjunction with at least one confirmatory equipment method from table 2 (equipment subsection). They are not approved to be used as a stand-alone testing method for drug checking.

Equipment

Method/technology name

Notes

Gas Chromatography Flame Ionization Detector (GC-FID)

May only be used in conjunction with confirmatory testing with an approved method from table two (equipment subsection).

Near Infrared (NIR) spectrometer portable device

Raman hand-held device

FTIR hand-held device

Liquid Chromatography with UV Detector (LC-UV) bench instrument

Reagents and test strips

Method/technology name

Notes

Reagent testing (Marquis, Morris, Mandelin, Cobalt II thiocynate, Chen’s test, Dragendorff’s test, Simon’s, Mecke, Zimmermann, Folin, Froehde and Liebermann) either commercial or prepared by an appropriately accredited laboratory.

May only be used in conjunction with confirmatory testing with an approved method from table two (equipment subsection).

Duquenois-Levine test (only for use on cannabinoids) either commercial or prepared by an appropriately accredited laboratory.

Benzodiazepine test strips

Nitazene test strips  

If an applicant or licensed provider wishes to use a method not on the approved list, they will need to satisfy the Director-General that the method is fit for its intended purpose. To submit a testing method for approval, email evidence that it is fit for purpose to [email protected].

Information required for method approval includes:

  • what substances the method is designed to test for
  • how the method will be used by the provider (what scenarios it will be used in, including how it will fit in with current testing methods)
  • limitations to the testing method (eg, health and safety considerations, time required to obtain a result, any other limitations including mitigations to manage these)
  • scientific evidence of validity and reliability to ensure high quality testing outcomes

Licensed drug checking providers

The Director-General of Health has licensed the following providers pursuant to clause 4 of Schedule 6 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 to carry out drug checking:

Trading name

Legal name

Website

KnowYourStuffNZ (KYSNZ) Know Your Stuff Ltd www.knowyourstuff.nz
The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) The Institute of Environmental Science and Research www.esr.cri.nz

NZ Drug Foundation

New Zealand Drug Foundation

www.drugfoundation.org.nz

The University of Auckland, School of Pharmacy (psychedelic microdosing research project)

The University of Auckland

www.auckland.ac.nz

New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme (NZNEP) - Drug Injecting Services Canterbury Trust (DISC) Drug Injecting Services Canterbury Trust www.nznep.org.nz

More information

If you would like to know more about drug checking or how it is regulated, please email [email protected].

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