‘Raft of solutions’ needed on drug deaths


More key voices have spoken out for – and against – pill testing in Australia

The AMA Queensland has issued a statement calling for a controlled pill testing trial, following the worst season for drug-related deaths at music festivals to date.

State president Dr Dilip Dhupelia said urgent action is required following the deaths of six young people from drugs consumed at music festivals this summer.

“Any death or serious harm caused by taking a pill at a music festival or other event is too many,” Dr Dhupelia said.

“We need to have a look at a raft of solutions in terms of dealing with these issues and a pill-testing trial should be considered as part of a wider harm minimisation strategy for festivals.

“AMA Queensland supports a controlled, holistic approach to minimising harm and stopping deaths amongst young and unsuspecting drug users.

“This could include robust medically-supervised pill testing trials where the latest lab testing technology is used and the results are compared with international evidence.

“Any trial would also need the support and involvement of the regulatory and clinical authorities and the testing kits would need the consensus support of chemical pathologists,” he said.

AMA Queensland Councillor and Addiction Medicine Specialist Dr Jim Finn said the best way to ensure that a pill testing regime provided accurate results was to invest in research and use sophisticated technologies rather than more basic tests.

“While pill testing can provide important information about which drugs are in a pill, it cannot tell an individual how a drug will affect them. This may vary based on individual differences, gender, age, weight, other substances consumed and the dose taken. Pill testing cannot declare a pill absolutely safe and the safest option remains not to take illicit drugs,” said Dr Finn.

AMA Queensland says it believes any pill testing trial would need to be held in conjunction with a wider strategy aimed at reducing supply and demand, minimising harm and educating drug users on the risks of taking illicit substances.

“We cannot rely on law enforcement alone to solve this issue. Education and access to rehabilitation need to be part of the solution as well,” said Dr Finn.

“Every effort must be made to increase education programs and services, which may occur at festivals.”

The AMAQ’s stance follows similar calls for pill testing trials from bodies including the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and the National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association.

PSA president Dr Chris Freeman told the AJP earlier this year that the PSA has not yet endorsed pill testing as a strategy to save lives, but wants to examine the results of any trials to determine whether such a strategy could help.

Many PSA members had contacted the organisation with concerns about music festival deaths, he said.

To date only one pill testing trial has been held, at Groovin the Moo 2018’s Canberra leg; a second trial is set for this year’s Canberra event, in late April.

However, not all stakeholders concur with the call for such trials.

Michael Ferguson, Tasmania’s Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management, said this week that the Tasmanian Government will not support drug testing, putting the island state’s policy firmly in line with that of NSW’s Berejiklian Government.

“The Tasmanian Government does not support pill testing, as we have consistently made clear including before the last election,” Mr Ferguson said this week, ahead of the Dark MOFO festival which will be held later this year.

“There is no safe use of any illicit drug and it’s reckless to suggest otherwise.

“The idea that a testing service can indicate that an illegal drug is free of certain contaminants sends a very mixed and risky message.

“We know there have been cases where people have died after using illegal drugs that are pure, so to offer a testing service that would suggest drugs are safe just because they don’t have additives or contaminants in them would be incredibly irresponsible and dangerous and offer people a false sense of security.

“The Government will not introduce any amnesty or special arrangements for those caught with illegal drugs at Dark MOFO or any other event.

“Tasmania Police advises that their approach at festivals and events is to target drug dealers with drug dogs and officers on the ground and I expect they will doing so at Dark MOFO.”

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