The ACT’s drug testing service will have extended opening hours in the lead-up to this weekend’s Spilt Milk music festival.
But ongoing efforts to establish a pill-testing service at the festival have again proved unsuccessful.
CANTest, which is located in the city, will now be open on Thursday 24 November from 10 am to 4 pm and Friday 25 November from 3 pm to 9 pm for people to take drugs to for testing ahead of their consumption at the festival on Saturday (26 November).
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the safest option remained not to take the drugs but experience showed people used illicit substances at festivals.
“The ACT Government does not condone the use of illicit drugs. The safest option remains not to take drugs, and this will always be our advice to the community,” she said.
The fixed pill-testing clinic was opened in July as part of a six-month pilot, in line with the Government’s aim of reducing harm associated with drug-taking.
It’s the only clinic of its kind in the country.
In the past month of its operation, 76 samples were brought in for testing and nine of these were voluntarily discarded afterwards.
Since its inception, almost 300 samples have been brought in for testing, and its operators expect numbers to keep on increasing as drug users’ trust for the service’s confidentiality increases.
People are asked to bring along only a small amount of the substance they are intending to take and police have stressed they use their discretion in the area at times the clinic is operational.
But that same discretion is not extended to anyone suspected of selling drugs.
Setting up festival-based pill-testing services has long proved more difficult.
Earlier this year, pill testing was pulled from Groovin’ the Moo just 48 hours out from the event after insurers refused to cover it.
Ms Stephen-Smith has foreshadowed the Government’s aim to continue working with Pill Testing Australia and other music festival organisers regarding future festival-based services.
Pill testing was previously run at Groovin’ the Moo in 2018 and 2019.
Spilt Milk, which has previously been held on National Capital Authority land at Commonwealth Park, is even more of a challenge without the support of the Commonwealth.
In 2017, despite the support of the Territory Government, the NCA refused to allow pill testing to go ahead, citing a lack of legal precedence and issues around approvals.
Directions Health Services CEO Bronwyn Hendry urged people to get in early if they planned to bring in drugs for testing as they were anticipating a spike in demand.
“We’re really pleased to be able to offer extended hours in the days leading up to the Spilt Milk Festival so festivalgoers are better informed on how they can reduce any potential harms they may experience,” Ms Hendry said.
“Around 5000 people are expected to attend Spilt Milk, so we are anticipating an increase in people seeking CanTEST services, both Canberrans attending and other people coming into the ACT for the festival.
“We want to get as many people through as possible and urge Canberrans not to leave it to the last minute.”
CANTest is located at the City Community Health Centre, 1 Moore Street, Canberra. It’s normally open from 10 am to 1 pm on Thursdays and 6 pm to 9 pm. Its services are free and confidential.