Pill testing trial go-ahead

Groovin the Moo. Image: Groovin the Moo via Facebook.
Groovin the Moo. Image: Groovin the Moo via Facebook.

Australia’s second-ever pill testing trial is set to take place at this year’s Groovin the Moo music festival in Canberra

Pill Testing Australia will once again check the ingredients of illicit drugs at the festival, following an announcement by ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.

“The ACT Government has given the green light for a pill testing trial to occur at the Groovin the Moo music festival in April,” Mr Barr said on Twitter.

“Governments have a responsibility to not only try and prevent drug use but also to support initiatives that reduce the harms associated with drug use.

“Pill testing does not make taking illicit drugs safe and our message to the community will always be, don’t take drugs. However, pill testing provides a health intervention at the point when someone is making the decision to take a pill.”

Mr Barr said health ministers from all Australian states and territories are invited to observe the trial, the ABC reports.

“We are keen for this approach to continue on the basis of the success of the first trial and the failure of policy over many decades now to address harm minimisation adequately,” he said.

“We believe that by making this service available there’s potential to save lives.

“In light of the experience in other jurisdictions over the summer with some quite-serious medical issues arising, there will be some additional harm minimisation measures put in place.”

Pill Testing Australia, which will conduct the trial, said on Twitter that it will provide “both pill testing and the important and rare opportunity for consumers to chat with health practitioners about their drug use.”

The announcement follows the deaths of five young people at music festivals in NSW between September 2018 and January 2019. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has repeatedly ruled out a pill testing trial, saying that such measures would green-light the use of illicit drugs.

At the first Australian pill testing trial, at Groovin the Moo in Canberra in 2018, more than three-fifths of patrons who had their drugs tested were surprised by the contents of the drugs. In two cases, potentially deadly substances were found.

A number of health bodies have come out in favour of pill testing trials to establish whether they can reduce harms associated with illicit drug use at music festivals.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia issued a position statement in January in which it called for such trials in each jurisdiction in Australia.

PSA considers pill testing to be consistent with the principles of harm reduction, said national president Dr Chris Freeman at the time.

The PSA was praised for this stance last week by Senator Richard Di Natale, national leader of the Greens.

“We need evidence-based policy, and we need people who have an evidence base behind them, and you’re trusted within the public debate to stand up and make their voices heard and you did that,” Senator Di Natale said at the launch of PSA’s new report, Pharmacists in 2023.

“And I want to congratulate Dr Freeman for your statement, where you said that pill testing informs people of the risks of illicit drugs, without giving the impression that the drugs are safe, that they’re still illegal and potentially harmful.”



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