Free weekly drug testing made available at Canterbury uni

Puaka - James Hight building at University of Canterbury. Photo: Corey Blackburn / supplied
Puaka - James Hight building at University of Canterbury. Photo: Corey Blackburn / supplied
Canterbury University Students' Association (UCSA) now provides a regular free drug-checking service on campus to prevent drug-related harm.

The UCSA has partnered with drug-checking organisation Know Your Stuff to run a clinic every week during term time. It will be held in its student union building, Haere-roa.

The first clinic was held on 14 February, with two clinics held last week to match O-Week parties.

UCSA president Luc MacKay said the student response to the on-site testing has been "really positive".

"KYS reported lots of student engagement over the first service with interest in what we are doing."

It is the only university campus with regular weekly term time checking. The Drug Foundation offers monthly drug checking clinics at the AUSA building at Auckland University.

UCSA has partnered with Know Your Stuff since 2020, providing the drug-checking service to students before major events.

"However, this only provides a small snapshot into what is really going on. By expanding the service to a weekly one, we can better provide education to our students all year round," MacKay said.

"Drug checking already takes place at other locations in Christchurch during the week. However, one of the most important factors for us was to bring it to campus so that it was more accessible for students."

Canterbury University People, Culture and Campus Life executive director Paul O'Flaherty said the university purchased the spectrometer, the specialised equipment needed for drug checking, specifically for student wellbeing.

It has loaned the spectrometer to UCSA for the clinics.

"If people choose to use drugs, we strongly encourage them to use free, legal drug-checking services. This involves checking substances with a spectrometer," he said.

"UC believes this service saves lives and it is best for trained specialists to provide drug-checking services and drug harm reduction education and advice."

'One of our goals'

KYS Christchurch regional co-lead Jason Middlemiss said the organisation was "thrilled" when the UCSA approached them about offering a regular service on campus.

"It's been one of our goals since before the legislative clarity was given by the government with law change," he said.

MacKay said, although the UCSA did not condone drug use, the organisation was aware of the realities that exist in student culture.

"Nationwide, people have been obtaining substances that they thought were fairly safe, but in reality, have the potential to be something completely different," he said.

"We feel harm prevention methods are necessary to support our students and help reduce drug-related harm."

By increasing accessibility to drug-checking services and expanding the service to a weekly one, MacKay said they can help students make informed decisions about drug use.

He also said it would help them understand student drug use trends at the university.

Middlemiss said the regular service was a "fantastic opportunity" to increase education about drug harm reduction and provide more confidence to students in what they think they have.

"Being onsite significantly increases the convenience and proximity to where a lot of students live which can be a big barrier to using our service."

Know Your Stuff would love to be able to provide the service nationally.

"But outside a desire from the universities, our ability to scale comes back to us finding new funding sources and justifying, with concrete data why we need more funding in this space."

The clinic will be held at Haere-Roa between 3pm-7pm on Wednesdays.