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News November 19, 2017

ACT Government putting together a roundtable on festival pill testing

A week after the ACT Government passed on introducing pill testing at the Canberra show of the Groovin’ The Moo festival in May, it has left the door open for more discussion.

It has announced it is putting together a roundtable to discuss the pros and cons of pill testing at music festivals.

It would be led by ACT Health, with input from police, the Justice and Community Safety Directorate and “community stakeholders” which hopefully also includes drug testing advocates and members of the ACT live music industry.

Speculation is that the first official pill testing at an Australian festival could take place at the Spilt Milk festival in December, which last year drew 20,000 to Commonwealth Park.

An opinion piece posted on the website of Harm Reduction Australia remarked, “If it happens, this will be a first for Australia, although about 20 other countries now allow pill testing – some having done so for almost 20 years. Har reduction Australia.”

Harm Reduction Australia had called for the Groovin’ The Moo tests, a proposal introduced to ACT Parliament through the Act Greens.

However the Government is at this stage not committing itself to a December deadline.

ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris was quoted in The Canberra Times as saying, “There are a range of regulatory, legislative and political issues that the Government will take the time to consider, given this is the first time in Australia that this would take place.

“I think that if there is a pill testing trial at a festival there would also need to be other information available to people attending the festival, separate from the trial, about the harms associated with taking illicit drugs.”

The small window for discussion of these regulatory, legislative and political issues is why the Government passed on piloting the program at Groovin’ The Moo. This reasoning was dismissed by the ACT Greens and drug testing advocates, who said that the Government had been given extensive figures eight months ago.

ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury questioned the need for a roundtable when lives were at stake.

“Reviewing the basic principles of pill testing or evidence for harm minimisation policy would be an unproductive distraction from the real task of implementing a trial this year,” he said.

He was “bitterly disappointed” by the GTM rejection as a lost opportunity, and said he’d first-hand witnessed a pill test on-site lab in action in the Netherlands, which he had just visited.

The roundtable was one of the recommendations by the Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drug Association (ATODA) in a report. You can read the full report online here.

ATODA is already an advocate of pill-testing, and suggested a roundtable because of its concern that some “senior decision-makers have rejected proposals to trial drug checking/pill testing without having undertaken any thorough, evidence-based assessments as to the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal.”

It believes that sceptics, once provided with the evidence, would also give the go-ahead for pill-testing at festivals.

These would “lead to the conclusion that drug checking should become part of the ACT’s ongoing drug harm reduction and demand reduction strategies.

“The key intended outcome from such an initiative will be to minimise the harms associated with illicit drug use in our community, and savinglives.”

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