New Zealand becomes first country to permanently legalise pill testing at events such as concerts


New Zealand has permanently legalised pill testing at events including concerts and music festivals, a year after it was introduced on a trial basis.

Pill testing services are not available in any Australian jurisdiction but were trialled twice in the ACT in 2018 and 2019. 

The New Zealand bill passed by 87 votes to 33, with just National – the main opposition party – voting against the legislation.  

Following a trial period of one year, New Zealand has passed permanent pill (pictured) testing legislation

Following a trial period of one year, New Zealand has passed permanent pill (pictured) testing legislation

Health Minister Andrew Little said evidence showed pill-testing helped to keep people safe by identifying potentially dangerous substances before they have been taken.

‘Research by Victoria University on behalf of the Ministry of Health showed that 68 per cent of festival-goers who used drug-checking services said they had changed their behaviour once they saw the results,’ Mr Little said. 

Three organisations – the Drug Foundation, Needle Exchange and Institute of Environmental Science and Research – have been approved to carry out the testing at events across the country.

The government announced in October that it would contribute $800,000 towards the training of drug-checkers and providing information about drug harms.

Though it didn’t have the votes to stop the bill, it was met with strong opposition by the National party.  

National’s Justice spokesman Simon Bridges said Victoria University’s research was not reliable, and that Australian and UK studies had found testing increased usage.

‘The only message that really stops fatalities is that no pill is safe. There’s no such thing as a safe ecstasy or a safe dose of some of the other drugs that may in time be able to be tested. That’s, in effect, what the coroner has said very recently,’ he said.

What is pill testing? 

Pill testing is a harm reduction strategy that allows a person who is already in possession of a drug to test it at a facility or booth to find out what is actually in it.

Testing services are set up in places where drug use commonly occurs, such as music festivals, clubs or dance parties. 

They can also be set up in community health centres or treatment services.

Source: Alcohol and Drug Foundation 

Mr Bridges said drugs aren’t just a health issue, but also a criminal justice issue.

‘Andrew Little in particular, when he first came to this House, he said it would just be for festivals. It then grew and it was pill testing everywhere that we’re legalising,’ he said.

‘It then became that actually not only are we testing the pills but the taxpayer is going to pay for it everywhere.’

But Drug Foundation executive director Sarah Helm said the law was the most significant advance in the area since the creation of needle exchanges in the late 1980s.

‘Many of our communities most at risk of overdose would hugely benefit from this health service, like people who use injected drugs and people who are homeless. This health service shouldn’t just be for festival goers,’ she told Radio New Zealand.

‘We would like to see more widespread availability of drug checking through needle exchanges and social services as soon as possible – in the next year.’

Mr Little said the law was about keeping people safe.

‘The drug-checking services we have had running have detected and intercepted potentially deadly substances circulating in the community.

‘Last summer, 40 per cent of the MDMA (ecstasy) that was tested turned out to be eutylone, a potentially dangerous synthetic cathinone also known as bath salts and linked to deaths and hospitalisations.’ 

Pill testing at music and festival events has been made legal in New Zealand after being trialled for a year

Pill testing at music and festival events has been made legal in New Zealand after being trialled for a year

The ACT is the only Australian state or territory that has trialled pill testing. On both occasions it was at the Canberra Groovin the Moo festival.  

At the last trial, in April 2019, it is thought to have saved the lives of seven young people. 

Having got their MDMA capsules tested, it turned out they were laced with a deadly toxin that has already claimed other young lives.

Having been told what the tablets actually contained, they left the drugs in an amnesty bin and went on to the event without any chemicals. 

The pill testing facilities during a media walkthrough before the Groovin the Moo 2019 festival on April 27, 2019 in Canberra. Festival-goers were able to get their illicit drugs checked for dangerous substances after the ACT Government signed off on a trial being held inside the festival gates

The pill testing facilities during a media walkthrough before the Groovin the Moo 2019 festival on April 27, 2019 in Canberra. Festival-goers were able to get their illicit drugs checked for dangerous substances after the ACT Government signed off on a trial being held inside the festival gates

The territory’s health department, though, cautions on its website that ‘No pill testing services operate on a harm reduction basis only. 

‘Illicit drugs, including MDMA, are inherently unsafe and testing can’t certify that you won’t suffer an adverse reaction by taking them.’ 

The new law is expected to come into effect in New Zealand on December 7. 



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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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