The ACT Government said it will consider directly funding pill testing at future events after organisers announced that Sunday’s music festival would be their last free trial in the ACT.
The Groovin the Moo trial at EPIC was hailed as “overwhelmingly successful” after seven people surrendered their illicit drugs after learning that they contained potentially lethal substances.
Around 234 festivalgoers out of the 24,000-strong crowd took part in the trial, with 171 drugs tested, more than double of the 85 pills tested at last year’s event.
The service, run by Pill Testing Australia, was only the second time pill testing has been offered at a music festival in Australia, following the first successful trial held at last year’s GTM in Canberra.
ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris said the figures showed a demand for the service at events such as music festivals which is indicative of people wanting to make informed choices.
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Ms Fitzharris stated on Monday afternoon (29 April) that pill testing is “harm minimisation at its core” at high-risk environments like music festivals.
“I was pleased to see there was a significant increase in the uptake of people attending the service,” she said.
“I believe pill testing is effective and I am really pleased that our robust approach is able to contribute to the national policy debate and hopefully progress drug policy here in Australia.”
Pill Testing Australia stated they would like to continue testing in the ACT but could not continue to self-fund. The ACT Government said it would consider direct funding for the service next year and did not rule out the possibility of a permanent site within the ACT.
The Australian National University will conduct an independent evaluation of the trial which will be released in the coming months, which Ms Fitzharris said will contribute to the evidence base for pill testing both locally and nationally, and help inform future policy decisions of government including other opportunities for pill testing in the future.
“We will have a number of options about the extent to which pill testing is a regular feature of music festivals here in the ACT or potentially a more regular feature of our drug policy and harm minimisation approach, which can include funding provided to Pill Testing Australia,” Ms Fitzharris said.
“Government funding may be considered because we already fund harm minimisation activities. Every single government of every single political persuasion fund harm minimisation measures in communities.
“The safe injecting room in Sydney is are a harm minimisation measure. Organisations that work with drug users today that are by and large funded by state governments and federal governments.
“Whether the ACT Government will choose to directly fund pill testing is an option that we will consider.”
ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said the Government should consider pill testing outside of music festivals, further reducing the potential harm from drug use.
“Canberra is proof that pill testing can help save young lives,” he said.
“We know that the war on drugs hasn’t worked. We have to accept that despite all the efforts on enforcement and education, some young people still take illicit drugs. The right thing to do is to try to minimise the tragic harm and deaths that can result.
“The efforts from groups such as Pill Testing Australia, together with the ACT Government, ACT Policing and ACT Health to realise pill testing in the ACT, marks a major achievement in realising a harm reduction approach.”
Mr Rattenbury said the Greens will continue to advocate for pill testing at all Canberra music festivals and he will make the case for pill testing at festivals across the country to his Federal Greens colleagues.
“So far, Pill Testing Australia has donated their time to ensure that fewer young people come to harm as a result of their illicit drug use,” he said.
“We need to find a model that makes this sustainable, whether through Government funding, philanthropic support or contributions from festival organisers, given how important pill testing is as a public health measure.
“In potentially saving young lives, the Greens believe this is money well spent.”