A leading doctor has slammed the offer of pill testing kits in a pharmacy group – but the pharmacists say it’s a chance for a drugs counselling intervention
AMA NSW president Kean-Seng Lim has told the South Coast Register and affiliated local papers that home pill testing kits are “almost certainly the wrong way” to attempt to analyse illicit drugs such as ecstasy.
The GP told Register reporter Rebecca Fist that while pill testing is not a “magic bullet,” health stakeholders have “seen pill-testing work overseas when combined with counselling with experts in the field, it’s used as a good way to engage with people who are thinking about taking drugs”.
“Proper pill-testing trials involve not just testing pills but engaging with information, and trying to minimise harm.
“Home testing kits are almost certainly the wrong way to be doing it. This is where you are not going to get any further advice. You can be led into a false sense of security.”
The comments were in response to the news that the Choice Pharmacy in Vincentia, near Nowra, NSW, is offering pill testing kits for $11.95, and posted about them on Facebook, telling customers that “if you’re going to take it, test it”.
But harm minimisation and counselling is exactly what the Choice Pharmacy group – which comprises four pharmacies in NSW and one in the Northern Territory – is trying to provide, says its general manager, Hasan Moutasallem.
“Those tests are freely available online anyway, not just in a pharmacy,” he told the AJP, pointing out that there is no counselling with a health professional when these kits are bought from the Internet.
“This is a topic that everyone’s talking about. I had a talk with Ali [Nazim], the pharmacist at Vincentia, and we thought it would be a great idea to help our patients have that extra information about what they’re taking.”
The service is not about encouraging or giving approval to drug use, he says, or making any claims that a sample is safe.
“We don’t get into contact with any pills – the kits are there available and ready to go. But before it gets sold, it has to go through a pharmacist to give them an opportunity to chat to patients.
“Our aim isn’t to get involved with the controversy for or against pill testing – we’re just aware that this gives us the ability for contact with the patient and the opportunity to tell them about things like how the drugs interact and how they affect their system.
“And we can point them in the right direction if they need help.”
Given the amount of trust community pharmacists enjoy, they have a significant role to play in harm minimisation strategies including counselling around illicit drug use, Mr Moutasallem says.
Green-lighting drug taking is “not what we’re about,” he says. “We’re about the community, and about our patients.
“So if a mum or dad comes up to us and says, ‘I know my daughters or my sons are taking these,’ I want to help them live on to their 18th or 19th birthdays.
“It’s a serious approach.”
The Register points out that while the Choice Pharmacy is the only local to actually stock the kits, other pharmacies in the area are willing to order them on request.