Trial suggests pill testing discouraged illicit drug use: Freeman

Crowd parties at music festival
The Canberra leg of Groovin the Moo 2019. Image courtesy Groovin the Moo via Facebook.

Australia’s second pill testing trial has identified seven dangerous substances containing the potentially deadly n-ethylpentylone

And the fact that many festival-goers binned their drugs shows that pill testing can discourage them from taking these substances, says the PSA’s Chris Freeman.

Like the first trial, the second was held at the Canberra leg of the Groovin the Moo festival.

Drug treatment experts responsible for the trial say that substances were tested for 234 participants – some of whom arrived at the service individually, and some who came in groups – and a total of 171 samples were tested.

This is a rise from last year, when 128 participants used the service and 85 samples were tested.

This year, seven dangerous substances containing n-ethylpentylone were identified, with patrons being alerted to the dangers of the substance. 

After learning about the potential harms from these substances they possessed they all used the amnesty bin to discard these drugs.

Patrons were given health warnings and safety information, and their feedback was overwhelming positive, according to the organisers: many said they would reconsider or take less of the substances they had in their possession.

“Today we helped reduce drug related harm by giving young people access to a medical service they would not have had otherwise,” said Pill Testing Australia’s Gina Vumbaca. 

“The pilot was again overwhelmingly successful by any measure but particularly by doing everything possible to keep our kids safe.

 “The simple truth is that it is time to take practical evidence based steps to make parties and festivals safer for our kids.

 “Huge thanks must go to the Groovin the Moo promoters and the ACT Government for recognising the unmitigated need to provide more information to patrons to reduce harm from drugs.”

The trial went ahead with the full support of Groovin the Moo promoters, and the ACT Government, including police and health services, as a harm reduction measure.

PSA national president Dr Chris Freeman told the AJP that it was “encouraging” to see these results.

“Many of those patrons chose to dispose of their substances at the festival,” he said. “Some of the critics of pill testing were suggesting that it would encourage people to take them, but I think what this trial does show is that once the substances are tested, people are choosing actually to dispose of them.

“So it discourages people from consuming it.”

PSA has called for additional trials of pill testing to allow health stakeholders to gather evidence around whether it is a useful component of harm minimisation.

“We believe pill testing could sit in with that suite of activities that can reduce harm from illicit and non-illicit substances,” he said.

“This should be viewed, not in isolation, but in the context of other measures like law enforcement and education and training, not only at the time of pill testing, but prior to making a decision to consume a substance like that or not.”

Matt Noffs, campaign spokesperson for Take Control, called upon governments around the country to consider trialling such a service.

Governments around Australia have a responsibility to reduce the festival death toll with all the available evidence, and that includes pill testing.

 “Pill testing is not a silver bullet but it’s a practical step we can take to get more control of a problem.

“Parents are understandably scared and it’s not good enough that governments are ignoring the evidence.”

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