PSA supports pill testing trial

A scene from the Adelaide leg of FOMO 2019. Image courtesy FOMO via Facebook.
A scene from the Adelaide leg of FOMO 2019. Image courtesy FOMO via Facebook.

Following several recent deaths from illicit drug use at festivals, the PSA has said that pill testing and drug checking services should be trialled in Australia

PSA National President Dr Chris Freeman says PSA believes further pill testing trials should be conducted at music festivals and other environments where illicit drug use occurs.

The organisation has now issued a position statement on the issue.

Five young people have died in NSW in a short period of time after allegedly taking substances at music festivals: Alex Ross-King after attending the FOMO music festival on January 12; Josh Tam, at Lost Paradise in December; Callum Brosnan at the Knockout Games of Destiny festival in December; and Joseph Pham and Diana Nguyen at the Defqon. 1 music festival in September 2018.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has repeatedly opposed pill testing in favour of discouraging all illicit drug use at festivals.

PSA’s position supports the recent call by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians as well as other medical groups to implement further pill testing trials at music festivals.

Pill testing is a harm minimisation service that analyses the content of illicit drugs to warn people about unknown and potentially lethal contaminants, says PSA. In 2011, illicit drug use caused 2.3% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia.

Dr Freeman says PSA considers pill testing to be consistent with the principles of harm reduction and supports further trials to inform the role of pill testing in Australia.

“Pill testing informs people of the risks of illicit drugs without giving the impression that the drugs are safe – they are still illegal and potentially harmful,” he says.

“Pill testing was successfully trialled at the Groovin’ The Moo festival in Canberra last year, and PSA supports further trials in each jurisdiction in Australia.”

Pharmacists have a long and established role in harm minimisation, from Opioid Replacement Therapy and needle and syringe programs to providing naloxone.

However, Australia is lagging behind other countries where pharmacists play a more prominent role in minimising harm from illicit drugs.

“Outside of emergency settings, Australia has no ongoing sanctioned pill testing services, even though evidence shows young people are supportive of these services and would use them,” Dr Freeman said.

“Several European countries already provide these services, including the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and France.

“The evidence from Europe is clear: pill testing saves lives. It’s time to invest in national trials and research so we can make informed decisions about pill testing.

“Law enforcement by itself does not stop people from dying but pill testing, as a supplement strategy, can.”

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