A secret drug-testing operation has allowed more than 60 people to test their recreational drugs at a recent festival, despite it being illegal for organisers to knowingly allow drugs on site.
The covert drug testers, operating with the festival's knowledge, found more than half the drugs punters brought in weren't what they thought they were.
Now more festivals – including Wellington's Homegrown – are considering drug testing tents, but face bucking up against the law.
However testing advocate Wendy Allison said drug-testing at festivals is the way forward for keeping people safe, as people will do drugs regardless.
She led the covert testing, liaising with the unnamed festival's organisers to set up a tent labelled 'Harm prevention'.
Over the course of the festival, Allison's teams tested 63 samples. Of those, 57 percent were not what the festival-goers thought they had.
"A lot of people who said 'I know this is MDMA, I tried it' – I showed them the charts and they were astounded.
"Just under half of the people who had samples that weren't what they thought told us they weren't going to take it."
Of 22 samples taken of LSD, only six were real. A further six tested positive for N-Bom, a drug implicated in a number of deaths overseas.
There was a growing interest among festivals to allow drug testing at venues, NZ Drug Foundation chief executive Ross Bell said.
"For us drug checking is the other alternative [to regulating]. It's the equivalent of providing sterile needles, you're not trying to stop the injection, you're just trying to keep people safe."
In the last two months he's spoken with two festival promoters about introducing drug-testing – one being Wellington's Jim Beam Homegrown festival.
If festivals were going to be able to offer drug-testing, there would either need to be a law change, or a 'gentleman's agreement' to allow it with local police, council and other stakeholders, Bell said.
Homegrown organiser Mark Wright said they would consider it for 2017.
Emergency medicine specialist and clinical toxicologist Dr Paul Quigley said allowing drug testing at festivals would make hospitals' jobs easier.
He argued legalising drug testing could both reduce hospital transfers, and provide more information for police about what dangerous drugs were being sold on the streets.
"You have to quite frankly be an idiot if you think that people aren't going to take drugs at these festivals... Instead of prohibition at least acknowledge it's happening and let's make it safer."
But Police Association president Greg O'Connor said there would be major issues for the authorities in allowing drug testing at festivals.
"But I suspect that the law makers and probably even the authorities would be very reluctant to formally become involved in this, because their involvement would become an admission used by both sides of the debate."
BY THE NUMBERS
63 substances tested
27 turned out to be what they were supposed to be
44 per cent said they wouldn't take the drug after finding out it was something else