Five young Australians have died in the last 5 months taking illegal drugs at music festivals. In 2017 seven young Australians died of drug related causes at music events.
Would pill testing save lives or as politicians tell us, just encourage young people to use drugs?
What do you think?Read more
Here's why doctors are backing pill testing at music festivals across Australia
For many years experts in the field of drug policy in Australia have known existing policies are failing. Crude messages (calls for total abstinence: "just say no to drugs") and even cruder enforcement strategies (harsher penalties, criminalisation of drug users) have had no impact on the use of drugs or the extent of their harmful effects on the community.
Whether we like it or not, drug use is common in our society, especially among young people. In 2016 43% of people aged 14 and older reported they had used an illicit drug at some point in their lifetime. And 28% of people in their twenties said they had used illicit drugs in the past year.Read more
Evidence is growing that pill testing encourages young people to reconsider their drug use — and new forms of testing can provide even more benefits.
In 2014, I wrote an article outlining six reasons why Australia should pilot pill testing. Those reasons included:
- strong public support for such measures, including among young people
- evidence of impact on the black market
- impact on consumption choices in a less harmful direction
- potential to be used for early warning systems
- opportunity to provide education, information and support to people who may be at risk of harm
- data opportunities for improved understanding of the drug market
Four years on, those six reasons still hold today. In fact, we now have stronger evidence regarding the positive impacts of pill testing on young people's drug consumption behaviour. In a study from the UK published just before Christmas, 20% of service users disposed of substances when the drug testing service revealed the substance to be other than what had been intended to be purchased. A further two-thirds of UK festival goers whose samples did not match their intended purchase disposed of further substances (Measham, 2018). This is the clearest evidence we have of behaviour change as a result of pill testing services at festivals. There is no reason to suspect that Australian festival goers are significantly different from UK festival goers.Read more
People can test their drugs at home
This has led to a flurry of calls for governments to introduce pill testing by specialists at festivals. What many people might not know is they can already legally purchase reagent test kits to test their drugs at home (although possession of the drugs is still illegal). So, do at-home test kits work?
What are reagents?
Pill testing, or drug checking as it’s known in Europe, provides feedback to users on the content of illegal drugs, allowing them to make informed choices.
Taking illicit drugs, especially ecstasy, is not particularly unusual. A 2010 survey found more than 11% of 20- to 29-year-olds and 7% of 18- to 19-year-olds had taken the drug in the previous 12 months. According to annual research among 1,000 ecstasy users, 70% of these pills are taken at clubs, festivals and dance parties.Read more
As the United States experiences an overwhelming opioid crisis; as the world's press is flooded with extra-judicial killings targeting drug "offenders" in the Philippines; as young Australians overdose on novel psychoactive substances and teenagers in the UK on ecstasy, there can be only one certainty: drugs are here to stay. Despite some countries reaffirming farcical commitments to a drug-free world, with over $100bn spent annually on the War on Drugs, and 20% of the world's prison population incarcerated on drug offences, drugs have never been cheaper or purer.
Providing regulated drug markets remain a pipe-dream (excluding cannabis) and transnational drug supply the remit of the criminal underworld; profit will always reign supreme. To maximise profit, drugs are frequently diluted with adulterants to make two kilos into three, or simply mimicked by cheaper, possibly harmful, replacements. Whilst some adulterants are benign (caffeine in cocaine), many are not (PMA/PMMA in ecstasy, fentanyl in heroin). Consequently, in addition to the known potential harms intrinsic to any given drug, users expose themselves to an array of truly unknown harms.Read more