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.
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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.