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.

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. These amendments can be viewed on the New Zealand Legislation website through the following links.

In December 2020, the Misuse of Drugs Act was amended to allow the Director-General of Health to appoint drug checking service providers by way of notice in the New Zealand Gazette. 

The appointment provisions in the Misuse of Drugs Act were temporary. They were intended to allow drug checking to take place with legal certainty while a licensing scheme was developed. Appointed and licensed providers are legally allowed to possess illicit drugs for drug checking purposes.

If an appointed provider applies for a licence within one month after the regulations come into force (5 May 2022), their appointment continues until the Director-General of Health or the Minister of Health makes a licensing decision on the applicant.

If an appointed provider does not apply for a licence within one month of the regulations coming into force, their appointment will lapse.

If there is a breach of any terms or condition of 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 appeals related to 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.

The licence term is usually 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.

Approved drug checking methods

Only approved methods listed below can be used by drug checking providers. Table 1 outlines methods that are suitable to be used for drug checking. Table 2 outlines methods that may be used only in conjunction with an approved method from table 1.

Table 1: Approved technology and testing methods

Method/technology name

Notes

Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer

Suitable for the field.

Ehrlich’s test

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

Rapid Response Fentanyl Test Strip

Fentanyl strips are approved as a stand-alone test when fentanyl is suspected.

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.

Table 2: Other approved methods with additional conditions
These methods are approved for use only when in conjunction with at least one confirmatory testing method from table 1. They are not approved to be used as a standalone testing method for drug checking.

Method/technology name

Notes

Tablet library/database (e.g. TICTAC)

May only be used in conjuction with confirmatory testing with an approved method from table one.

Gas Chromatography Flame Ionization Detector (GC-FID)

Near Infrared Reflectance (NIR) portable device

Raman hand-held device

FTIR hand-held device

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

Commercial reagent testing (eg, marquis, morris, mandelin, cobalt II thiocynate, chen’s test, dragendorff’s test)

ESR prepared chemical reagents

Benzodiazepine 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].

Appointed drug checking service providers

The Director-General of Health has appointed the following providers pursuant to section 35DA of the Misuse of Drugs Act to carry out drug checking:

Trading name

Legal name

Website

Gazette notice

KnowYourStuffNZ

Know Your Stuff Ltd

knowyourstuff.nz Gazette notice – 9 December 2020
NZ Drug Foundation NZ Drug Foundation www.drugfoundation.org.nz Gazette notice – 22 September 2021
New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme (NZNEP) New Zealand Needle Exchange www.nznep.org.nz Gazette notice – 17 November 2021
The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) The Institute of Environmental Science and Research www.esr.cri.nz Gazette notice – 22 November 2021

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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