New data reveals over 20 per cent of pill testing participants were underage

Lachlan Roberts 23 August 2019 22

158 festivalgoers had their drugs tested at Groovin the Moo this year. Photo: Jess Gleeson, supplied by Groovin the Moo.

Every fifth person who visited the pill-testing tent at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo music festival was under 18 years of age according to new data released by the Australian National University.

Of the 234 festivalgoers who entered Pill Testing Australia’s tent on 28 March, 53 of them were under 18 and were therefore excluded from the evaluation.

Another 22 participants declined to enrol in the evaluation while another knowingly presented a sample of candy for testing, and was therefore excluded, leaving a total of 158 valid participants.

The report said that 46 per cent of the 158 participants were 18 or 19 years old, with the oldest participant aged 51 years. In total, 76 females, 81 males and one person who did not identify as either gender had their drugs tested.

As part of the process, the 158 participants signed a waiver and then provided a scraping of the substance for testing. After the substance was tested, chemists and medical staff provided patrons with the result and reiterated that no level of drug use is ‘safe’.

The participants then received a brief personalised harm minimisation intervention to discuss the risks of consuming the substance and how to minimise these risks.

Pill Testing Australia’s initial results from the trial said MDMA was the prominent substance found along with lesser extents of cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamines.

The service said the test also discovered seven samples containing n-ethylpentylone, which is potentially lethal and believed to be responsible for several mass-overdoses overseas. All seven of the festivalgoers who were told their drugs contained the dangerous substance surrendered them to the amnesty bins provided by the service.

ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said the news that majority of the people attending the pill testing tent were teenagers underlines the positive effect of pill testing.

“These are people who don’t necessarily have a lot of information and pill testing does provide that opportunity to access that information,” Mr Rattenbury said. “It is a concern that they are taking these drugs but I hope that the educative process fully explains to them the dangers involved.”

When asked whether he believes pill testing is actually supporting underage kids taking illicit substances, Mr Rattenbury said the clear message from pill testing is always not to take drugs.

“Pill testing highlights the dangers and there is a harm minimisation element to it,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“I think most parents will really welcome the fact that the harm minimisation is there because young people are making these decisions that are based on immaturity and peer pressure. These young people don’t want to die from taking these drugs.

“They see the potential for fun but they also understand the risk, which I suppose does reflect a certain maturity. We need to acknowledge that people are going to take drugs because they see it as a way to have fun and if that is what people are going to do, let’s make sure they don’t die as a consequence.”

The independent evaluation of the ACT’s pill testing trial in 2019, which is being conducted by ANU researchers, is testing the service’s effectiveness for changing drug use behaviour and will inform policymaking in the ACT.

The full report is expected to be released early next year.

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22 Responses to New data reveals over 20 per cent of pill testing participants were underage
Domenic Fabbo Domenic Fabbo 6:49 am 25 Aug 19

So, is the prohibitive system working?are deaths the answer? Time to think outside the box

Ray Ez Ray Ez 7:08 pm 24 Aug 19

How can you be underage for an illegal activity? These drugs are illegal, full stop.

Craig McLaren Craig McLaren 11:17 am 24 Aug 19

Underage for what?

Ben Foley Ben Foley 10:37 am 24 Aug 19


Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 9:49 am 24 Aug 19

Here’s an idea....don’t take drugs!

I work at a prison and the vast majority of men I work with blame and acknowledge drugs and associated behaviour as why they are there.

    Craig McLaren Craig McLaren 11:19 am 24 Aug 19

    Andrew Duncan Not really a cross section of society though... "Men In Prison." Your "research" is very limited. There are lots of people not in jail who use drugs regularly.

    Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 12:20 pm 24 Aug 19

    You’d be surprised at cross-section of prisoners I’ve worked with.

    They’ve been convicted of breaking the law and face punishment. Sell the drugs then jail. Until laws change then accept them.

    Condoning underage drug use?

    Louise Flood Louise Flood 2:37 pm 24 Aug 19

    Andrew Duncan Not condoning it but being realistic that a large proportion of people will take drugs at some ppint. This is about harm minimisation that actually works. I would think that a young person who has their drugs tested and learns they have wasted their money on substances containing chemicals that will kill them would think twice about taking them in the future. Seems like a real lesson in staying away from them.

    Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 5:11 pm 24 Aug 19

    ‘Young person’ ? How young is young? 17? 15? And would you be ok with ‘young people’ engaging in other questionable behaviour?

    Luke Emerton Luke Emerton 7:52 pm 24 Aug 19

    Many people who become incarcerated due to drug convictions also have other problems. Drug abuse is a symptom of many people who are not able or capable of dealing with their real problems.

Murray Lembit Murray Lembit 8:59 pm 23 Aug 19

Is there an age limit on illicit substances?

Louise Flood Louise Flood 8:30 pm 23 Aug 19

Sooooo the under age people are acting responsibly to take care of themselves. And the problem is????????

    David Jackson David Jackson 8:42 pm 23 Aug 19

    Louise Flood responsible and playing with illegal drugs that you have no idea what’s in them ? Really?

    Louise Flood Louise Flood 8:43 pm 23 Aug 19

    David Jackson yes. They are resposible in knowing that they need to have them checked and work out if they are contaminated so they don’t DIE.

    Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 12:21 pm 24 Aug 19

    They are still underage. And before you say “yeah but they’re 17” why not 16...15....14?

    Louise Flood Louise Flood 2:31 pm 24 Aug 19

    Andrew Duncan The day the kids who are 17, 16, 15, 14 stay away from things they are not allowed then maybe I will agree. ALcohol? Smoking? driving under the influence? at least these kids are less likely to die at a festival because of the evil people who cut drugs with poisons

    David Jackson David Jackson 6:01 pm 24 Aug 19

    Rob Chalmers it means they know what is in the little bit that is scraped off and have no idea what is in the rest of it. Go do a bit of fact checking on how the testing is done.

    Louise Flood Louise Flood 6:32 am 25 Aug 19

    David Jackson if you believe in survival of the fittest why are you debating this at all? Whatever your views on the process it has been shown to be effective in other countries. I guess you could also say those youngsters are going to end up surviving.

Kate List Kate List 8:21 pm 23 Aug 19

‘...20 percent of pill testing participants were underage...’ Is there a legal age you have to be to take illicit drugs?

    Kytie Mclign Kytie Mclign 10:32 am 24 Aug 19

    Kate List No but Australian law defines an adult as being over 18 years if age.

Travissi Gilbert Travissi Gilbert 7:34 pm 23 Aug 19

Well, we can probably blame prohibition for that.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:02 pm 23 Aug 19

“These are people who don’t necessarily have a lot of information……..”

Surely that is a mistake as the word should be intelligence, not information.

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