The ACT Government hopes the independent evaluation of this year’s pill testing trial that backed the harm-reduction measure will help other jurisdictions overcome their opposition and save lives at future music festivals.
The evaluation conducted by the ANU found the Groovin the Moo festival trial was implemented as planned, the service was well received by patrons and stakeholders, and it had a positive effect on patron knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.
The trial was only the second government-sanctioned trial of its type in Australia, and was designed and implemented collaboratively by Pill Testing Australia, Cattleyard Promotions, ACT Health and ACT Policing.
The evaluation found no strong arguments against the development of further services that provide pill testing and harm reduction information for people using illicit drugs, and the findings support such initiatives.
The evaluation found that enough lead time was available to develop the trial carefully, with the result that it was implemented as planned and produced the types of results that the key stakeholders expected to see.
The service provided harm reduction information to 234 patrons and identified seven samples containing a potentially dangerous substance, N-ethyl pentylone.
The evaluation said the combination of testing and harm reduction interventions produced a number of positive results such as increasing participants’ knowledge, their trust of health providers and other written sources of harm reduction information, and changing their drug use behaviour.
ACT Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ANU evaluation was nation-leading research that demonstrated the benefit of providing a supportive policy environment for pill testing at major music festivals.
“We now have an independent evaluation undertaken by experts from the ANU that clearly shows pill testing is an effective health intervention at the point when someone is making the decision to take a pill,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
Findings from this independent report would provide a bigger evidence base for pill testing nationally and help to inform future policy decisions for pill testing in the ACT.
The Government was likely to develop in the New Year a safe festivals policy that would include pill testing before the next Groovin the Moo event in April.
Ms Stephen-Smith said copies of the report would be sent to ministers interstate and to the Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, and they would be told that she would be raising the issue at COAG Health Council in 2020.
“We need to continue this conversation at a national level. Across the country, we have seen too many avoidable deaths at music festivals. It is obvious current processes and policies are not working and more needs to be done,” she said.
“I hope all states and territories consider these findings seriously. Any action that can be taken to reduce the harm of illicit drug use at music festivals must be explored.”
Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT Government did not condone the use of illicit drugs but 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.
Key findings of the evaluation include:
- All patrons who had particularly dangerous drugs identified (N-ethyl pentylone) disposed of the drug in the amnesty bin provided as part of the service
- On leaving the service, 28 per cent of patrons said that they would use less of the drug than planned
- 97 per cent of patrons said the information they received was very clear and consistently reported that their interaction with the service increased their knowledge on how to reduce harm, particularly for novice users
- Patrons said that they would change their behaviour to reduce harm by taking less of the drug, spacing out their use, drinking water, and being less reluctant to seek medical assistance
- 98 per cent of patrons rated the service very highly, and
- 95 per cent would use the service again if available.
Patrons also welcomed being the trial’s non-judgmental approach and appreciated the information being provided.