THE VALUE OF PILL TESTING AS A HARM REDUCTION MEASURE THAT SAVES LIVES AND REDUCES THE RISK OF OTHER SERIOUS HARM
- Five deaths of young music festival patrons that have taken place since the current festival season began in spring 2018 has drawn unprecedented public and political attention to pill testing with a strong support for testing as a practical harm reduction measure likely to avoid these deaths. Matters have reached a tipping point ,making it all the more important that all of us and committed to drug law reform should do what we can to bring about change. These notes outline the issues as Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform sees them.
- The harm reduction benefits of pill testing at music festivals are obvious. Deployable testing technology has the capacity to detect with substantial accuracy particularly harmful ingredients that have had fatal consequences. Experience shows that patrons heed the advice;
- As shown by the behaviour of dance festival patrons in the ACT which hosted the first Australian trial of pill testing and at dance festivals overseas where pill testing is offered as a standard service, patrons avoid consuming pills they are warned about. Studies report that “that 25 to 100 % of drug users will discard their drugs if they learn that they contain unwanted or unexpected harmful compounds” (Brunt 2017). Testing venues at music festivals provide an opportunity for health workers to engage with patrons on the avoidance or minimisation of the health effects of the pills they are thinking of taking and they enable law enforcement agencies to secure intelligence about new substances and their origin.
- The chief obstacle to the rolling out of pill testing is the admitted possibility that the measures taken will not guarantee the safety of the drug users. The essence of the problem though is that intense policing and publicity campaigns have not excluded pills from dance festivals and in fact heighten the risk of harm with panicked users downing all at once their pills for the day. Essentially the case for pill testing is made out with the evidence showing that, the interventions reduce the risk of death or serious harm.
- Please draw on the following in your advocacy, whether writing letters to the paper, in social media or in conversations sitting around the kitchen table. We are keen to have feedback in how these notes can be made more useful. Please also draw our attention to any aspect of them that should be improved.