News March 9, 2021

WA study challenges myth that pill testing at festivals leads to more drug taking

WA study challenges myth that pill testing at festivals leads to more drug taking

One of the foremost arguments put forward for blocking pill-testing at music festivals is that it leads to greater drug taking. A new study from Perth’s Edith Cowan University (ECU), however, shows that it is not the case.

Published in the Drug and Alcohol Review, it surveyed 247 patrons of a WA festival. Most (212) had taken ecstasy but they maintained that pill testing either at music events or the Perth CBD would not increase their MDMA intake.

In fact as studies on the east coast have shown, it made people more aware of the need for health education and about the dangers of what’s in their pills.

“There’s been a push in the media that if pill testing is rolled out, it’s going to give the green light to people to use drugs,” said Dr. Stephen Bright, ECU senior lecturer and lead author of the study.

“Our study aimed to test this out… and collect some data that would either support or disprove that idea.”

His conclusion: “If we identify a compound that’s dangerous and tell them about that… my experience is that people just chucked it in the bin. So it reduces intention to use.”

The WA study indicated: “The biggest influence on a person’s intention to use a pill-testing service at a festival was how it was viewed among their friendship group.”

Peer-based harm-reduction groups funded by the WA Government were an important way to encourage pill testing and safety around drug use, he suggested.

Dr. Bright said that while the results of the two pill-testing instances at music festivals were positive, more work needed to be done before programs were rolled out in WA.

The ECU report came out around the time Professor Alison Ritter of University of NSW published a piece on six reasons for piloting a pill-testing program.

These included a high rate (82%) of Australians aged 16—25 who agree with it, the positive impact it would have on the black market, its proven impact on taking drugs that were toxic, and “pill testing means we can capture long-term data about the actual substances present in the drug scene”.

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