The ACT Government has given the green light for a pill testing trial at the Groovin the Moo music festival at Exhibition Park in April, in the wake of five deaths at events elsewhere over the summer..
The trial will be run by Pill Testing Australia, the same group which ran the first trial that was held at last year’s Groovin the Moo at the University of Canberra. It has already said that a second trial would be bigger than the first.
The 28 April trial will be only the second time the service has been offered at a music festival in Australia.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said governments had a responsibility to not only try to prevent drug use but also to support initiatives that reduce the harms associated with drug use.
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“Pill testing does not make taking illicit drugs safe and our message to the community will always be, don’t take drugs,” he said.
“However, pill testing provides a health intervention at the point when someone is making the decision to take a pill. By making this service available at music festivals there is the potential to save lives.”
Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Meegan Fitzharris said that a second trial of pill testing would further contribute to the evidence base for pill testing both locally and nationally.
“The data that came out of the first trial was incredibly informative for health and emergency services,” she said.
“It provided information about the types of substances that are in the ACT plus it identified two potentially deadly substances in two of the pills submitted for testing.
“Given the increasing interest in pill testing, we consider this trial to be of enormous value to the debate and deliberations about harm minimisation.”
There would be an independent evaluation as part of the trial, which the Government would make available to other jurisdictions.
Mr Barr said that Health Ministers from other jurisdictions would be invited to observe the trial, and he believed the NSW Labor Health spokesperson would attend.
He also welcomed ACT shadow attorney-general Jeremy Hanson’s intention to also attend the trial and observe its conduct, despite his opposition to pill testing.
Mr Barr said he had not always supported pill testing but he had been persuaded by the evidence. “I’ve looked at the results of the first trial and I am now confident to support a second one,” he said.
Mr Barr said there was now a significant national debate on this issue after a ‘pretty terrible summer’ and he believed the trial would make a useful contribution to that debate.
The ACT Greens welcomed the Government’s decision, saying the previous trial showed that pill testing works.
“This commitment realises what we’ve known now for years—that pill testing saves lives,” Greens spokesperson for Drug Law Reform Shane Rattenbury said.
“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 Greens said that at last year’s trial:
- Almost everyone (93 per cent) of those who had their pills tested said that this was not the first time they had used illegal drugs. Most reported getting their drugs from friends (55 per cent) or their dealer (28 per cent).
- A variety of substances were identified in the pills, including high purity MDMA, cocaine and ketamine. One dangerous substance that has led to hospitalisations in New Zealand and deaths in the US, was confirmed amongst samples tested on-site.
- Six in 10 of those who had their pills tested said they were surprised by the results of testing.
- Four in 10 of those who had their pills tested said that they would change their behaviour after finding out what was really in their pills.
- Three in 4 of those who brought drugs for testing received some Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) brief intervention counselling from the medical professionals on site.
- 18 per cent of those who had their pills tested said they would either discard the drugs in the amnesty bins provided or were uncertain as to what they would do as a result of the information provided by the service.
The Greens will continue to advocate for pill testing at all Canberra music festivals, while the Federal Greens will make the case for pill testing at festivals across the country.
They said pill testing should also be considered at other events besides music festivals, to further reduce the potential harm from drug use.