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Pill testing: 'It gives people a false sense of security'

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We find out what the authorities - state premiers, police commissioners and some health departments - stance is on pill testing.

Insight approached state premiers, police commissioners and some health departments to appear on the program. All declined. They were asked to provide a statement about their position on pill testing, and approach to reducing drug-related harm at festivals, instead.

VICTORIA

Victorian Deputy Police Commissioner Rick Nugent

Victoria Police is not supportive of pill testing. There is no such thing as a safe illicit drug. An identical drug can affect different people in different ways. Illicit drugs affect people different depending on the purity of the drug, tolerance level, or medical conditions that people may or may not know they have.

The majority of overdoses at music festivals are caused by poly drug use – that is multiple drugs consumed by the person. Pill testing does not prevent this. People who have taken drugs can be more vulnerable to crime.

Victoria Police is concerned about the message to the community resulting from pill testing – normalising or condoning drug use. Will more people start using drugs if they are tested and perceived as being safe? All drug addiction starts somewhere, including at music festivals.

We don’t know what the longer term social harm will be from the introduction of pill testing.

Police work hard to prevent people from accessing and taking drugs to prevent harm and prevent addiction. Pill testing occurs at the point when a person has already obtained illicit drugs and intends to consume them. More can be done to educate and prevent people from taking illicit drugs before we utilise pill testing. It requires responses from the health and education sectors as well as from Police.

Drugs are manufactured by criminals with absolutely no regard for the safety of the people who take them.

Victorian Government

We have no plans to allow for pill-testing at events in Victoria. 

Advice from Victoria Police tells us it can give people a false, and potentially fatal, sense of security about illicit drugs.

The Andrews Labor Government provides almost $20 million per year to support a number of initiatives that aim to reduce harm caused by alcohol and other drugs.

This includes support for DanceWize to provide harm reduction resources, education, care and support to reduce alcohol and other drug-related harms at Victorian dance parties, festivals and nightclubs.  

We’ve also established a trial of the first Medically Supervised Injecting Room in Victoria’s history – and only the second in Australia.

The facility in North Richmond has been operating for six months and it is saving lives, making local streets safer, and providing critical medical and social service intervention to help people get off drugs, and get their life back on track.

NSW

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian  

The NSW Premier did not provide a statement.

NSW Police Force

The NSW Government is acting to improve safety at music festivals as we address community concerns heightened by recent tragic deaths of young people.

We have accepted in-principle and are taking action to implement the recommendations of the Expert Panel Report “Keeping People Safe at Music Festivals”.

As we act to improve licensing, and in turn boost the safety of music festivals, the NSW Police Force and other government agencies continue to work with music festival event organisers. 

The NSW Police Force regularly undertake event risk assessments which in turn determines the operational police presence. Officers work with event organisers as they seek to manage risks posed by each event – whether it be misuse of drugs or alcohol, violence, or other issues.

Police resources required for each festival might involve police patrols, bag checks or area sweeps by drug detection dogs.

The NSW Police Force uses the information they gain about a festival, including its history, proposed format, patron numbers and whether there are alcohol sales to inform their response. Additionally police input into the licensing conditions - that may be imposed by Liquor and Gaming NSW – aims to ensure the festival is a safer environment.

Police will continue to enforce the law at public events, as we make every effort to ensure the safety and security of event patrons - so everyone makes it home.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard

There is no such thing as a safe illegal drug.

Pill testing or ‘drug checking’ may test for the presence of particular compounds in a pill or capsule – it does not indicate that a pill or capsule is safe to consume. It gives people a false sense of security that may leave them brain damaged or physically disabled.

Focusing on pill testing and identifying the contaminants distracts from the fact that early toxicology tests indicate MDMA was present in the tablets consumed by all five people who died since September last year after attending music festivals.

The NSW Government shares the view of the Victorian Labor Government, the West Australian Labor Government and the Labor shadow health minister in NSW (as recently as December 2018) in not supporting pill testing.

QUEENSLAND

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles

Every avenue that might save the life of a young Queenslander, or young Australian is worth considering.

The Queensland Government is looking closely at the work currently underway in Canberra.

The ACT Government intends to conduct a second trial this year Groovin’ the Moo festival in Canberra.

This will provide a larger sample size, which will give us a better understanding.

I’ve said before, a nationally constant approach to drug harm minimisation is ideal.

Festivals that move around from state-to-state should operate under the same rules. 

And a young person who travels interstate to attend a festival should also have the same experiences no matter where the festival.  

I look forward to continuing this discussion at the next COAG meeting to try and secure a national approach.

We need to make sure young people are educated about the risks associated with drug use.

The Queensland government has a budget of $1.77 billion for mental health, alcohol and other drug programs and services in 2018-19, or just over 10 per cent of the total health budget.

The Education department has also developed the Alcohol and other drugs education program for secondary students. The program includes teaching resources and best-practice educational approaches for alcohol and other drug education.

The program supports young Queenslanders to develop a greater awareness and understanding of the impacts of alcohol and other drug use; their capacity to make responsible, safe and informed decisions and their ability to effectively manage challenging situations. The program is available to all Queensland schools.

 Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk

The Queensland Premier Annastacia referred Insight to the Queensland Health Minister for a statement.

Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart

The Queensland Police Service (QPS) is working with other government agencies to consider the issue of harm minimisation more generally.

This process includes assessing whether pill testing would be suitable among a suite of measures that could be considered.

The QPS will continue to take appropriate action within current legislation to ensure the safety of patrons at events.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

South Australia Police Commissioner Grant Stevens

At this point in time SAPOL does not support pill testing.  Conducting pill testing at music festivals does not provided sufficient safety to people who are taking illicit substances.  These are illegal drugs produced by criminals in back yard laboratories and the pill testing process is not conclusive.  Nor do we know the physiological condition of a person taking that tablet and we know even pure MDMA can result in a deadly overdose, so it’s not simply just about confirming MDMA or some other substance.  My role is to put systems in place that reduce the demand and make it harder for people to get the drugs.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

WA government spokesperson

The State Government has a comprehensive response to drug use throughout our community, which involves reducing the demand, supply and harm of drugs.

So far we have seen some positive results, particularly around methamphetamines, but as a community we still have a lot of work ahead of us.

There are no current plans to consider pill testing here in Western Australia.

WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson

Policy decisions on how we handle the issue of illicit drugs in our community rightly belong with the government of the day.

However, as Commissioner of Police I am not convinced there is the evidence to support the effectiveness or safety of pill testing and I’m not in favour of it.

WA Police remain committed to enforcing the law, catching drug dealers and disrupting the supply of illicit drugs.

TASMANIA

Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson

The Hodgman Liberal Government does not support pill testing.

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.

There are serious concerns over how many lives could be lost by people taking an illegal and dangerous drug under a belief that it is safe, and some families who have lost loved ones are calling on Governments to reject testing for this reason.

Illicit drugs are dangerous by their very nature, and young Tasmanians must be aware of that serious risk.

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

The Government provides funding for a range of harm minimisation initiatives, including resourcing for organisations such as the Drug Education Network and the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.”

Source SBS Insight

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