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Opinion May 31, 2018

Op Ed: Are we ever going to agree on pill-testing?

Senior Journalist, B2B
Op Ed: Are we ever going to agree on pill-testing?

In April, following the full official pill-testing at Moo the Festival in Canberra when 128 of 20,000 patrons used the facility, there seemed to have been the possibility that common sense would take over.

Especially since the Canberra tests unearthed two toxic pills that reportedly would have caused death.

“How many funerals do we have to go to of people that have taken these substances and found out they’re not what they’re sold?” federal Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch said immediately after.

Federal Labor backbencher senator Lisa Singh added, “If we are going to get serious about harm minimisation, then pill testing at a health facility at a music festival without fear of police needs to be an option.”

However, the official stance is that no pill testing will take place in at least two states.

Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews has emphasised that his government will not introduce it, and he has not changed his mind.

“These drugs cannot be consumed at a safe level, therefore, we will not be putting in place a pill testing regime,” he said.

Assistant commissioner of Victoria Police Rick Nugent pointed out that at this stage, “Those handling illicit substances as part of a pill-testing service could be liable for prosecution under the Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substance Act 1981.”

He added: “Victoria Police endorses the pillars of drug harm minimisation — those being prevention, treatment, reducing harm and reducing supply.”

In Western Australia, police minister Michelle Roberts told one media outlet that pill-testing was “not something that is in any way being contemplated” in the state.

The minister’s stance was that the Canberra pilot showed what the dealers’ greed meant. “You really are rolling the dice when you dabble in illicit drugs. The only safe thing to do is to not take drugs in the first place.”

On his Ted Noffs Foundation blogMatt Noffs – one of the consortia in the Canberra trial – outlined what should happen to move things forward:

“We need to speak to those police and pollies who want to see change.

“We need to leave the dogma and discrimination of those who use drugs behind.

“After all, not every person who uses drugs is shooting up in a back alley.”

Noffs noted: “It’s time for a new perspective on drugs, on addiction and on how we manage drugs as a country.

“We know how to make Australia the safest place on the planet when it comes to drugs and young people.

“It’s time to leave the past behind and get on board with pill testing and evidence-based treatment.”

At last week’s International Music Summit in Ibiza harm reduction not-for-profit group, The Loop, hosted a session entitled ‘The Case For: Drug Testing At Events’.

The Loop’s director Fiona Measham stressed that accusing harm reduction groups as encouraging drug taking was wrong: patrons had already bought their pills before arriving at festival sites with every intention of taking them.

On the same panel, as reported in Music Week, Broadwick Live group production director Jon Drape said, “We do our damnedest to prevent drugs getting onto site – we are certainly not encouraging the use of drugs.

“However, we accept the fact that they will, no matter what we do, get onto our festival sites.”

Although pill-testing has been widely adopted through Europe, the first one in the UK took place only two years ago, at Secret Garden Party, in a hands-off deal brokered with police and local council.

Festival founder Freddie Fellowes said: “In 20-plus years of doing this, this is the first meaningful change in harm reduction policy that I’ve seen in our industry and I think it’s slightly disgraceful we’ve had to wait this long to change anything.”

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