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Crying over Spilt Milk

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 19 October 2017 9

After earlier announcements that pill testing would be available at the upcoming Spilt Milk music festival, it is a shock to now find out it that the pill testing trial will not be going ahead at the Canberra festival this November, with organisers saying last week that the consortium who was to run the trial has not provided the necessary authorisations in time.

It is a real blow to find out that this initiative has stumbled at the final hurdle, particularly given that the health experts willing to run the trial as part of the STA Safe Consortium, the ACT Government, and ACT Policing have been working together to get the trial ready in time for the festival. It flies in the face of strong community support for the trial, evidenced through the lodging of a petition of 1000 signatures of residents who back the trial in the Legislative Assembly last month.

Speculation is rife as to what has led to the decision not to proceed with the trial and political interference has been claimed by the ACT Greens who are strong supporters of pill testing at festivals. Reportedly, it has come out of the blue for the consortium who had been working with stakeholders including festival organisers, ACT Health and ACT Policing to make sure that the trial meets all required safety requirements and laws. ACT Police has put in place protocols to enable this to occur and has confirmed that no laws will be broken if it goes ahead. The National Capital Authority (NCA) who controls the land the festival is happening on has confirmed that there was no specified timeframe for authorisations but the festival organisers say that documentation was not provided in time. This is despite the Consortium being unclear what additional documentation is required. The NCA denies political interference, but the Canberra Liberals who are opposed to the trial did write to their federal counterparts (while not receiving a reply) and appear to be taking credit for the trial not going ahead, with a tweet late last week congratulating Jeremy Hanson MLA for intervening.

It is hard to understand why this sensible harm minimisation strategy is mired in so much controversy and has been so difficult to get up and running. Despite some claiming that pill testing is tantamount to peddling drugs, there is no credible evidence that pill testing increases drug use, but plenty of evidence that it can play a part in keeping people contemplating taking illicit substances a safer. Pill testing has been utilised at festivals in a number of countries around the world and is about providing people with an option to find out more about the potential harmful ingredients of a drug that they have already procured and are planning to ingest. It has never claimed to eliminate harm, but provides an opportunity for medical experts to engage with a person prior to them engaging in drug taking and provide information about the specific potential harms of a particular drug. If this approach saves just one life, surely it is worth working to make it happen.

Despite the specifics of what has occurred, it does appear that once again politics has sunk the prospect of pill testing at a Canberra festival, despite the evidence of the usefulness of this strategy, community support and significant goodwill between parties responsible for making it happen. This is a time where we should be crying over Spilt Milk, given it means that a festival that will be occurring in our town is less safe than it could have been and our young people are at greater risk than they needed to be. We need to be honest and recognise that this is a time where fear, ideology, and oppositional party politics has again won the day, and we have failed to keep our young people safer.

I think it deeply concerning that pill testing at Spilt Milk will not be going ahead, and hope that we will see pill testing at future ACT festivals. What do you think?

Rebecca Vassarotti is an active member of the ACT Greens. She was a candidate for the ACT Greens in the 2016 Territory Election.

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9 Responses to
Crying over Spilt Milk
Rollersk8r 2:32 pm 20 Oct 17

The main issue is punters simply wanting to hear their pills are either “good” or “bad”, no matter how you frame it. That is the reality. Bottom line. Of course the advocates say they are not making (and will not make) that judgement – they are simply providing data to inform decision. Making wise choices isn’t exactly a strong point for most kids attending festivals, but I digress…

So – if you perceive the test results to be “good”, then what? You suddenly have the seal of approval. You can on sell for double or triple what you paid. The reputation of whoever sold it to you just improved. Not to mention the reassurance it provides for those who might be hesitant about taking an illegal drug.

On the other hand, bad luck if your pills are “bad”; best sell to someone else to recover your money…

No_Nose 5:53 pm 19 Oct 17

I’m not sure if pill testing is part of the answer….mainly because I’m not really sure what the question actually is.

But one thing I am sure of is …. whatever the question is in this issue …. the answers of ‘Drugs are illegal’ , ‘Just say no’ and ‘Lock them up’ are not working.

So maybe it is time to try a different narrative.

chewy14 3:43 pm 19 Oct 17

Rebecca Vassarotti said :

twiggy6 said :

It astounds me that someone can actively encourage someone to take an illicit and dangerous substance but then turn around and want to dictate to someone how they spend their money in a licensed venue.

Its interesting that you link these issues as they while they are both very different, they are both essentially about informing people and introducing harm minimisation strategies. In the case of pill testing, its about giving information to people who have already purchased and are intending to ingest a substance about the possible harms that might be caused by that action (far from encouraging them to take that substance) and in the case of poker machines, ensuring that there is consumer protection in place for a product that we know can cause harm and has been designed in a way that can be highly addictive.

So surely your position with regards to poker machines should be to help those individuals who at risk of becoming addicted, the problem users, similar to your position of wanting to help individual people who are taking drugs to take them safely. Realising that blanket restrictions don’t help and in fact are often more harmful.

Providing pill testing would be the equivalent harm minimisation as having self exclusion and offering voluntary pre-commitment for poker machines.

The two positions are clearly incompatible and just outline the Greens inconsistency when it comes to issues of personal freedom.

bikhet 3:15 pm 19 Oct 17

Rebecca Vassarotti said :

My understanding is that a drug would never been deemed as safe and the aim is to provide information to people with specific information about the harms of a particular substance.

If that’s all they are doing then fair enough. There should be fewer liability issues.

Rebecca Vassarotti said :

I am also not quite sure how commenting about actions that the Canberra Liberals have reported themselves as taking is an attempt at besmirching them.

In your OP you say “Speculation is rife as to what has led to the decision not to proceed with the trial” and later that “oppositional party politics has again won the day”. The former states the reason for the decision is not known, the later that the action of the ACT Liberals caused the decision.

Rebecca Vassarotti 1:34 pm 19 Oct 17

bikhet said :

I think that pill testing, as proposed for Split Milk, is, and will continue to be, a good idea right up to the point where someone dies, or is otherwise harmed, by taking a substance from a batch that has been declared “safe.” Then watch everyone duck for cover as the lawyers march onto the scene.

My preferred approach is legalisation, or at least decriminalisation, and treating drug addiction as a health problem.

I also think that your attempt at besmirching of the Liberals is as much politicisation of the issue as the actions you claim the Liberals have taken. You can’t maintain clean hands while throwing mud.

My understanding is that a drug would never been deemed as safe and the aim is to provide information to people with specific information about the harms of a particular substance. I am also not quite sure how commenting about actions that the Canberra Liberals have reported themselves as taking is an attempt at besmirching them.

Rebecca Vassarotti 1:26 pm 19 Oct 17

twiggy6 said :

It astounds me that someone can actively encourage someone to take an illicit and dangerous substance but then turn around and want to dictate to someone how they spend their money in a licensed venue.

Its interesting that you link these issues as they while they are both very different, they are both essentially about informing people and introducing harm minimisation strategies. In the case of pill testing, its about giving information to people who have already purchased and are intending to ingest a substance about the possible harms that might be caused by that action (far from encouraging them to take that substance) and in the case of poker machines, ensuring that there is consumer protection in place for a product that we know can cause harm and has been designed in a way that can be highly addictive.

Garfield 12:53 pm 19 Oct 17

bikhet said :

My preferred approach is legalisation, or at least decriminalisation, and treating drug addiction as a health problem.

I think that legalisation and regulation has to be considered as a way to minimise negative health outcomes. We’ve seen effective anti smoking and drink driving campaigns in recent decades with reductions in smoking rates and road deaths. Prohibiting something makes it an enticing forbidden fruit for some people, while making it legal and putting up bureaucratic barriers around it could discourage some consumption.

The big problem with proposed pill testing seems to be that it won’t necessarily pick up everything contained in a pill, meaning people could still take harmful substances unknowingly. If there was regulation instead of prohibition, people would know what they were taking and there would be a consistency of product that would hopefully minimise unintended outcomes.

twiggy6 12:00 pm 19 Oct 17

It astounds me that someone can actively encourage someone to take an illicit and dangerous substance but then turn around and want to dictate to someone how they spend their money in a licensed venue.

bikhet 9:56 am 19 Oct 17

I think that pill testing, as proposed for Split Milk, is, and will continue to be, a good idea right up to the point where someone dies, or is otherwise harmed, by taking a substance from a batch that has been declared “safe.” Then watch everyone duck for cover as the lawyers march onto the scene.

My preferred approach is legalisation, or at least decriminalisation, and treating drug addiction as a health problem.

I also think that your attempt at besmirching of the Liberals is as much politicisation of the issue as the actions you claim the Liberals have taken. You can’t maintain clean hands while throwing mud.

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