Support for pill-testing from all sides

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Drugs can contain deadly products. 

By  HANNAH TRZCINSKI

Festival-goers think that pill-testing is an important way to reduce harm from drugs, according to a recent survey.

The survey, published in Harm Reduction Journal, showed about 87 per cent of participants said they would be likely to use pill-testing services at music festivals, and more than half said they would not consume substances containing methamphetamine, ketamine or PMA.

Most (85 per cent) also agreed that drug checking services should be combined with harm reduction advice.

The first pill-testing trial in Australia was held last month at the Groovin’ the Moo festival in Victoria, revealing two deadly substances, and many that were dangerous, including paint. 

Deakin University alcohol and drug policy researcher Dr Andrew Groves said the need for harm reduction and educating young people was crucial.

 Many young people would take drugs “regardless”, he said.

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Drug use in Portugal was decriminalised, with a resulting reduction in drug-related problems. 

Previous frameworks of zero tolerance had not worked, he said. The key point was to emphasise the availability of support services and to allow young people to be more aware of what they are taking. 

“If something doesn’t work, we need to think of alternatives.”

But he said the issue was not whether drugs were safe or not. “I think it’s very important to make the point that drug use is not safe.”

A submission to Victoria’s Drug Law Reform report by the National Drug Research Institute, tabled in Parliament in March, said that the potential benefits of pill testing “far outweigh the potential negatives”.

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Daily doses of methadone are handed out from a van in Lisbon, Portugal. 

It is also one of the many harm reduction strategies recommended to the Victorian Government by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF).

ADF national policy manager Geoff Munro said the slow uptake of pill-testing stemmed from the worry that it might encourage the use of illicit drugs.  

He said evidence showed there had actually been a reduction in drug use overall among young people, especially among high-risk users.

Portugal’s 2017 drug report showed a downward trend in illicit drug use since the use of all illicit substances was decriminalised in 2001. This included a regulated pill-testing regimen at music festivals.