As another festival season winds down, the calls to introduce pill testing are ramping up. But despite growing acceptance among Australians, the legal and political viability of the idea remains murky.
“I think if Daniel would have had the opportunity to be able to test the acid … he wouldn’t have taken it. Daniel wouldn’t have wanted to come out of there in a body bag. He didn’t go there to kill himself,” says Adriana Buccianti, who lost her son to a bad acid trip at the 2012 Rainbow Serpent Festival.
Pill testing has recently gained a political ally in Greens party leader Richard Di Natale, who thinks pill testing should be available at festivals and clubs.
“People are dying because governments are refusing to put in place the things that we know can save lives,” he says.
But Di Natale is alone among federal pollies and not all industry experts agree with him.
“Certainly there’s a lot of legal challenges here, and there’s mundane issues like insurance,” says Andrew Leibie, a forensic toxicologist at a commercial laboratory.
What he means is: if the results aren’t accurate and something goes terribly wrong, who’s accountable for the fallout?
“The detection methods that we have are not keeping up with the rate of new drugs even in sophisticated laboratories, let alone [onsite instant] pill testing,” he says.
“Nearly everyone who is advised that their pill is something dangerous in it, chooses not to take that pill.”
Of course, even pure drugs aren’t safe, so there’s more to pill testing than a simple test – it’s about starting a conversation.
“What we are creating is a system by which a team of experts can persuade young people to do something other than consume their drugs,” says Dr David Caldicott, an emergency medicine specialist who’s been leading the charge for pill testing in Australia for more than 15 years.
But Caldicott is quick to add that the system isn’t a zero-tolerance deterrence scheme.
“It's not for us to sort of hold their oesophagus and stop them from taking it … nearly everyone who is advised that their pill has something dangerous in it, chooses not to take that pill.”