As the pill testing debate reaches boiling point in Australia, both sides of the argument have offered a number of claims, stats and opinions in the air, not all of which are substantiated.
At the forefront of the pill testing movement is Ted Noffs Foundation (who were instrumental in Australia's first-ever pill testing trial at Groovin The Moo in Canberra last year) and its Campaigns & Policy Coordinator, Shelley Smith, who has a key insight into the process through extensive research.
Earlier this week, veteran festival promoter and founder of Stereosonic, Richie McNeill told The Music that despite he himself being in favour of pill testing, that a “holistic approach” needed to be adopted in order to prevent more drug-related deaths at music festivals.
“I think pill testing is part of a holistic approach,” Smith told The Music.
“We never claim that it’s the silver bullet that’s going to fix everything, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we’re currently doing, which is completely law enforcement focused [and] hasn’t really reduced drug use or the affects of that.”
While some still argue more evidence is needed to prove pill testing can save lives or how an on-site facility would operate, Smith gave us a complete rundown.
HOW IT WORKS
“People come in and, in terms of how the testing works, we only need a very small scrapping of whatever it is, whether it’s a tablet or powder, and the machine that we use can determine not only what chemicals are in that substance, but also the purity levels.
“The test itself takes about five-six minutes and once the results come back, the doctor will advise the participant of what the results are and then take them through that.
“For example, roughly half the people who had their drugs tested at Groovin The Moo had what they thought was MDMA and it turned out that it was mainly MDMA. Even in that case the doctor would be like, ‘So, the substance you’ve got, the main ingredient is MDMA, but MDMA has these side effects, and we just want to make you aware of them and, if you do decide to take it, these are the steps you can take to reduce harm. For example, staying hydrated, taking only a little bit to start with and seeing how you feel in 20 minutes or so.’
“This type of health intervention, they’re not going to get it without pill testing.”
- “We’ve seen evidence from overseas that pill testing can reduce risky drug-taking behaviour. In Austria, where they’ve had a pill testing service for about 20 years, two thirds of people who have accessed pill testing services decided they would not consume a substance if it was found to contain harmful chemicals.”
- “A recent joint study by researchers in Australia and the United States, which was surveying individuals at electronic dance events in New York City, questioned all of the survey participates about, 'If there was a pill testing service available, would you consume your substance if it was found to contain harmful chemicals such as bath salts or methamphetamine?', and around 54% of those said they wouldn’t.”
- “UK service The Loop and North American service DanceSafe, which have been providing harm reduction services at live music events for many years now, have reported a discard rate or substances between 25% – 100% from people who had gotten them tested and they were found to contain harmful adulterants.
- “Research out of Australia found that 58% of people who used pill testing services said they would not otherwise seek out harm reduction information, and about 75% are more likely to access harm reduction services if pill testing is included.”
- “Pill testing actually reduces risky drug use, especially where the result is not what the patron expected…a lot of the opposition is based on that ‘just say no, drugs are bad’ ideology, but we’ve seen that actually hasn’t gotten us very far at all.”
The Coroners Court will hold a public hearing into the five suspected drug-related deaths on 22 January.