Australia Needs Pill Testing, NOW!

On June 19th, 1971, Richard Nixon announced “drug abuse” as America’s “public enemy number one”. This sparked a worldwide movement to crack down on the supply and consumption of illicit substances, including here in Australia.

This, at the time, seemed justified. The 60s produced a vibrant counterculture amongst the youth leading to increased consumption of hallucinogens. The 70s brought heroin from American troops stationed in Australia during the Vietnam War. The 80s had the HIV/AIDS epidemic, where the use of needles started spreading the disease.

The point of this crackdown was founded on three pillars:

  1. Demand Reduction
  2. Supply Reduction
  3. Harm Minimisation

We reduced demand by running widespread public awareness campaigns, increasing the penalties for drug use and possession, and making prescription pills that lead to illicit drug use harder to obtain.

Supply has been reduced with stronger border force scrutiny, more significant penalties for those involved in the distribution of drugs, more resources allocated to policing drugs and reducing the availability of chemicals needed to produce some illicit drugs.

Harm minimisation has been an area of major concern though. This pillar, in recent years, has appeared to become the cornerstone of dealing with the problem.

Currently, we allow some reductions to rehab costs through Medicare. However, harm minimisation has been relatively limited as drugs are treated as a criminal issue.

For so long as it is illegal to use drugs, it is morally incongruous for the government to create legal amnesty zones that promote its use. You wouldn’t help a burglar steal in a way that hurts themselves or others less? So why do we treat people with addiction –  a health issue – the same way.

Currently, there are only two safe-injecting rooms in the entire country. The first was set up in King’s Cross, which massively reduced heroin overdose deaths. The second has recently been established in North-Richmond and is showing promising results.

These rooms act as a way to ensure that addicts can take drugs in a space where they are less likely to harm themselves while high, or overdose and die. It also offers the government a chance to interact with a captured audience, offering to send individuals to rehab facilities to receive help.

This is a good first step, but we need to go further.

In the last few days, we’ve heard of many young adults who have died from an overdose at music festivals from pills they couldn’t be entirely sure about. In fact, I was told the story of someone that I know who had schoolies took too much MDMA and had to be taken to the hospital, where, if he had been a half-hour or hour later, he would’ve overdosed and died.

We know that for decades young people have taken drugs at music festivals. We can be reasonably sure that for decades more to come they will take drugs at music festivals.

Pill testing is a way to check the makeup of a drug and the strength of a drug. It has stopped people taking pills that were laced with rat poison, stopped people from taking too much of a drug that they thought was weaker. It has offered a chance for festival volunteers to inform young people about the effects of the drugs they have, to ensure they know how to care for themselves if they take it, or what to do if things start going wrong.

According to a new paper conducting on pill testing, found through reporting by The Guardian, pill testing at a music festival in Cambridgeshire reduced the rate of hospital admissions by 95%. The study also found that “two-thirds of people who discovered they had had substances missold to them subsequently handed over further substances to the police”.

The study also found that dealers were twice as likely to mislead individuals at a music festival than off-site, bringing up the importance of this harm minimisation strategy within this environment.

However, the Victorian and NSW Government are not listening to calls for change on this front. After deaths at Beyond the Valley the Victorian Government ruled out pill testing, and the NSW Government has remained steadfast in its denial of testing as a solution to the problem, with Premier Berejiklian stating “Anyone who advocates pill-testing is giving the green light to drugs. There is no such thing as a safe drug, and unfortunately, when young people think there is, it has tragic consequences,”.

For now, we can look on to other countries as they enact solutions to their problems, while we remain held to the prescribed attitudes of drug use as criminal and addiction as a moral failure.


May we not let more people die when we have the resources to save them. We shall remember those who have died, and while their families hurt and our best wishes are with them, they deserve more than best wishes. Contact your MP to demand pill testing at all major events.


Beyond The Valley: 1 Death

Lost Paradise: 1 Death

Defqon.1: 2 Deaths, 18 Hospital Admissions

As of 4/1/19

 

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