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 applied for a licence within one month after the regulations came 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 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 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.

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

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 this 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 1). 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 1 outlines methods (equipment and reagents/test strips) that are suitable to be used for drug checking. Table 2 outlines methods that may be used only in conjunction with an approved equipment method from table 1 (equipment subsection).

Table 1: 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. Only to be used for cannabis plant material and cannabinoid products. Results to include THC and/or CBD only and must be reported as a percentage (whole number or percentage range).
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 Strip

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

Table 2: 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 1 (equipment subsection). They are not approved to be used as a standalone 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 one (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 one (equipment subsection).

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

Benzodiazepine test strips

Other

Method/technology name

Notes

Tablet library/database (eg TICTAC)

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

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

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) Needle Exchange Services Trust 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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