A pop-up pill testing facility in Civic could run across the summer after the ACT Government committed to exploring a pilot program yesterday (20 August).
Region Media understands the St John’s CBR NightCrew – which operates a harm-minimisation tent near Platform 8 of the City Bus Station on Mort Street – has offered to become a potential hosting site for the trial.
The months-long program would be a significant expansion of the two previous pill testing trials at the Groovin the Moo festival in 2018 and 2019.
Greens’ leader Shane Rattenbury attached the pilot program to a motion moved by Labor MLA Michael Pettersson which calls for whomever forms government in October to continue a harm-minimisation approach to drug and alcohol policy.
More than 250 substances have been tested over the past two years and a total of nine potentially lethal doses were found. The amnesty bin was used at least a dozen times across the two years as well.
“The use of drugs and alcohol should be treated as a health problem, not as a criminal issue. We will consider the amendment the Greens are putting forward and we will work with them on what is an appropriate option going forward for pill testing,” Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said.
“We have supported pill testing at festivals and have said all along that we would take an evidence-based approach to any further expansion of pill testing based on our fundamental commitment to a harm-minimisation approach to drug and alcohol policy.”
The Government has commissioned the Burnet Institute to advise on static pill testing and assess whether a medically safe injecting facility is appropriate for the ACT.
“We also need to consider what is the evidence in our community,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“We saw young people and people who were intending to take pills [at the festival] minimising the risk of harm associated with that drug use by changing their behaviour around that, drinking more water, spacing out the taking of those drugs, and also being more informed and more willing to seek advice.”
The Canberra Liberals voted against Mr Rattenbury’s amendment to establish the pilot and have previously opposed pill testing on legal and public safety grounds, calling the decriminalisation of drugs and government-sanctioned pill testing irresponsible.
However, Ms Stephen-Smith says supporting pill testing does not result in the condoning of drug use.
“We are talking about people who already intend to take illicit drugs. This is all about reducing the harm that is associated with going through with that intention,” she said.
“We also need to continue to take measures to reduce the demand for illicit drugs and the supply of illicit drugs.”