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Pill testing: We can save young lives and help #KeepCanberraSafe

By Shane Rattenbury MLA - 15 March 2017 8

Keep CBR Safe

Today we are proud to launch the Keep Canberra Safe campaign, urging Labor to protect the young people in our community by taking a new health-focused approach to drug use and trialling a pill testing service.

Australians – often young Australians – are tragically dying from adulterated ‘party drugs’ and there is a well-established process we can take to help minimise this harm. The reality is that most drug takers are unaware of the origin and chemical make-up of what they put into their body. For example, the MDMA content in an ecstasy tablet can vary widely and new synthetic drugs are constantly appearing on the market.

Pill testing involves a simple, on-site test by medical experts, using portable laboratory grade equipment, that allows festival-goers to have a pill or pill scraping tested for toxic impurities that could harm or potentially kill them. This information can quickly be communicated publicly to warn people of specific dangers, preventing potential injuries and deaths.

The ACT Greens believe that it is incumbent on us to move beyond the failing ‘law and order’ approach and take action to prevent harm where we can.

Pill testing is a harm reduction measure that has been shown to work in several overseas countries. In Austria, two-thirds of drug users who were informed by a government-funded pill testing service of potential toxic harms decided not to consume their drugs, and told their friends not to either. In Australia, 76% of participants in a hypothetical study reported they would not take a pill with ‘unknown’ substances in it.

Often, it is young people who try so called ‘party drugs’ – such as ecstasy or MDMA – when they are at music festivals. In 2015 alone, ‘party drugs’ claimed six lives at Australian music festivals and there were countless overdoses. At Sydney’s Stereosonic festival, a young woman died, 120 people were treated for drug-related issues and nine others were taken to hospital. Already this year, three young people have died in Melbourne from drug overdoses and at least 20 have been hospitalised. Two young men from the Hunter region of NSW also died horrific deaths after overdosing on synthetic drugs.

Pill testing, as a harm reduction measure, can work hand in hand with enforcement and education initiatives. Police can still operate at festivals where pill testing occurs, targeting drug suppliers, rather than those accessing the testing service. Fortunately, pill testing services collect extensive data on the types and composition of drugs that are in circulation, which is invaluable to police in their broader drug-prevention efforts.

The Greens are calling on the ACT Government to sanction and support a trial of pill testing, to prevent harm and to save lives. Canberra is an ideal location to get this initiative started. The ACT Government already has the power to authorise bodies to do pill testing. Police already exercise discretion by not targeting people attending drug and alcohol services, because they understand the benefits they provide. We are small enough to keep a trial controlled and manageable, but we are big enough to have several large, well-attended music festivals.

Without proper pill testing we will continue to place our young people at considerable risk that could otherwise be avoided.

For a pill-testing trial to be successful, it will require the co-operation of government, health experts, police, festival organisers and the broader community. That’s why today I’m urging ACT Chief Minister Barr to keep Canberra safe by committing to a pill testing trial before more young people are harmed.

Sign the petition to help Keep Canberra Safe today: www.keepcanberrasafe.org.au.

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8 Responses to
Pill testing: We can save young lives and help #KeepCanberraSafe
John Moulis 4:16 pm 16 Mar 17

Attitudes towards pill testing need to change with the times. When the AIDS crisis hit Australia in 1984 the idea of a needle and syringe exchange program was abhorrent to Australians. But when Hazel Hawke took control of its promotion and explained that the sharing of syringes transmitted AIDS and that if IV drug users were given fresh, one-use syringes it would stop AIDS spilling over into the straight community the majority of Australians came on board.

Pill testing is similar. Notwithstanding that oral narcotics are illegal, the best route to harm minimisation is to test the pills beforehand before ingestion. As far as the illegality of he pills is concerned – and steroids or PIEDS, PEIDS or whatever stupid acronym the police have given them – the public have taken matters into their own hands as to whether they take them or not, so the law really is an ass in this instance.

Garfield 11:33 am 16 Mar 17

I believe in the personal freedoms part of the Liberal platform more than many of their politicians seem to. Drugs should be assessed on a case by case basis for legalisation & regulation. That way people know what they’re taking and this sort of testing shouldn’t be needed. It should mean fewer deaths and hospital admissions, fewer police resources devoted to the area, fewer people in prison, more taxes paid and less welfare paid as I’m sure some sellers claim unemployment.

I also agree with the comments about drug takers taking personal responsibility for their actions, just like people who choose to drink alcohol, smoke tobacco or drive a vehicle, all potentially lethal activities. Part of having freedoms is accepting responsibility for your choices.

Mysteryman 9:58 am 16 Mar 17

K_c24 said :

Illicit drug taking is not dissimilar to gambling except that you put your health/life on the line instead of cash. At what point do we hold people accountable for their own choices? You can’t protect people from themselves.

Exactly. I don’t think the government should be in the business of protecting people from their own stupidity.

Rebecca Vassarotti said :

This is a really important issue that we all need to engage in. I don’t think we can stand by and see young people die because they make a bad choice.

I’m sorry, but that’s how life works. Choices have consequences and teaching young people that obviously bad decisions should be risk free is disingenuous at best.

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Milo11 8:41 am 16 Mar 17

If you are stupid enough to take the stuff you need to accept the consequences. Why should my taxes be spent to help people conduct illegal activities and support the manufacture of illegal drugs? It is the most ludicrous proposal I have ever heard! That money could be far better spent on things that actually benefit the community rather getting more people addicted to illegal drugs. Only the Greens and their supporters could come up with such a bone headed idea.

rommeldog56 7:45 am 16 Mar 17

Rachel Moore said :

I spoke with a young man who attended a music festival abroad where pill testing was available. On the dance floor he found a small bag with what appeared to be a small amount of a white substance. Previously he admitted he would have taken the drug without really considering the consequences fully. As there was a testing station, he took it to be tested and discovered that it was a combination of some rather nasty synthetic substances. He chose to not take it and the testing folks disposed of it.
The majority of consumers who participate in illegal substance consumption at a dance party are not addicts. They are your sons, daughters, friends and work mates.

I think the comment “he admitted he would have taken the drug without really considering the consequences fully” says it all really. Is this really what we have become? It defies belief. How totally absurd. I couldn’t care less if they are “your sons, daughters, friends and work mates,” if they put illegal drugs into their bodies, they are quite frankly, idiots and deserve what may happen to them as a result.

This whole pill testing proposal is so absurd that it’s not worth commenting on.

Rebecca Vassarotti 10:55 pm 15 Mar 17

This is a really important issue that we all need to engage in. I don’t think we can stand by and see young people die because they make a bad choice. I am really proud to be a member of the ACT Greens because we are prepared to take on tough issues like this and respond to the evidence. I wrote a piece on this issue as we headed into the festival season which is here if it is of interest: http://the-riotact.com/making-music-festivals-safer/188752

Rachel Moore 8:39 pm 15 Mar 17

Promotion, prevention and early intervention are the only strategies internationally and locally that have proven to work. I spoke with a young man who attended a music festival abroad where pill testing was available. On the dance floor he found a small bag with what appeared to be a small amount of a white substance. Previously he admitted he would have taken the drug without really considering the consequences fully. As there was a testing station, he took it to be tested and discovered that it was a combination of some rather nasty synthetic substances. He chose to not take it and the testing folks disposed of it.
The majority of consumers who participate in illegal substance consumption at a dance party are not addicts. They are your sons, daughters, friends and work mates. Regardless if you agree or not the government has an obligation to educate and inform the public. This includes drug testing. Look how long it took us as a nation to massively reduce smoking. That was done through education around Tabaco in schools and the community. Promotion, prevention and early intervention. Education and community health promotion campaigns work!

On a side note, it so great to see that not many young people smoke. Guess they found something else to do…wonder what that is…..

Be sure to check out the Alcohol and Drug foundations guide on how to spot an overdose http://adf.org.au/insights/overdose/

K_c24 7:23 pm 15 Mar 17

Illicit drug taking is not dissimilar to gambling except that you put your health/life on the line instead of cash. At what point do we hold people accountable for their own choices? You can’t protect people from themselves.

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