Today we are proud to launch the Keep Canberra Safe campaign, urging Labor to protect the young people in our community by taking a new health-focused approach to drug use and trialling a pill testing service.
Australians – often young Australians – are tragically dying from adulterated ‘party drugs’ and there is a well-established process we can take to help minimise this harm. The reality is that most drug takers are unaware of the origin and chemical make-up of what they put into their body. For example, the MDMA content in an ecstasy tablet can vary widely and new synthetic drugs are constantly appearing on the market.
Pill testing involves a simple, on-site test by medical experts, using portable laboratory grade equipment, that allows festival-goers to have a pill or pill scraping tested for toxic impurities that could harm or potentially kill them. This information can quickly be communicated publicly to warn people of specific dangers, preventing potential injuries and deaths.
The ACT Greens believe that it is incumbent on us to move beyond the failing ‘law and order’ approach and take action to prevent harm where we can.
Pill testing is a harm reduction measure that has been shown to work in several overseas countries. In Austria, two-thirds of drug users who were informed by a government-funded pill testing service of potential toxic harms decided not to consume their drugs, and told their friends not to either. In Australia, 76% of participants in a hypothetical study reported they would not take a pill with ‘unknown’ substances in it.
Often, it is young people who try so called ‘party drugs’ – such as ecstasy or MDMA – when they are at music festivals. In 2015 alone, ‘party drugs’ claimed six lives at Australian music festivals and there were countless overdoses. At Sydney’s Stereosonic festival, a young woman died, 120 people were treated for drug-related issues and nine others were taken to hospital. Already this year, three young people have died in Melbourne from drug overdoses and at least 20 have been hospitalised. Two young men from the Hunter region of NSW also died horrific deaths after overdosing on synthetic drugs.
Pill testing, as a harm reduction measure, can work hand in hand with enforcement and education initiatives. Police can still operate at festivals where pill testing occurs, targeting drug suppliers, rather than those accessing the testing service. Fortunately, pill testing services collect extensive data on the types and composition of drugs that are in circulation, which is invaluable to police in their broader drug-prevention efforts.
The Greens are calling on the ACT Government to sanction and support a trial of pill testing, to prevent harm and to save lives. Canberra is an ideal location to get this initiative started. The ACT Government already has the power to authorise bodies to do pill testing. Police already exercise discretion by not targeting people attending drug and alcohol services, because they understand the benefits they provide. We are small enough to keep a trial controlled and manageable, but we are big enough to have several large, well-attended music festivals.
Without proper pill testing we will continue to place our young people at considerable risk that could otherwise be avoided.
For a pill-testing trial to be successful, it will require the co-operation of government, health experts, police, festival organisers and the broader community. That’s why today I’m urging ACT Chief Minister Barr to keep Canberra safe by committing to a pill testing trial before more young people are harmed.
Sign the petition to help Keep Canberra Safe today: www.keepcanberrasafe.org.au.