Tragedy has struck again with a suspected overdose of a 19-year old at a dance music event over the weekend. It follows a similar event earlier this year when two festival goers died of again, a suspected drug overdose at DEFQON. There is obviously a problem… but what is the solution?
For the government it’s the same rhetoric “DON’T DO DRUGS” and while admirable to keep it up, the reality is people continue to take drugs and consistently have over the past 15 years in Australia according to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016. More recent statistics actually point to an increased consumption of legal and illegal drugs even with record seizures according to the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (hint: a lot of people are using meth/ICE).
Every time one of these events happens, you will often see the same comments online across most media with very oversimplified and overreaching reactions that while may have some weight, ultimately don’t actually offer much in the way of being constructive.
In an effort to summerise these all in the same place, we’ve dropped them below with a response that’ll hopefully show the pro’s and con’s to introduce pill testing in Australia.
Just don’t do drugs, it’s that simple really.
Of course you don’t have to take drugs, that’s an individuals choice but the fact humans have been consuming all manners of things for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years all the way back to prehistoric times so there’s a good chance it’s happening (and is).
Wondering how many Australians have used illegal drugs? Some 40% admit to using them sometime in their life – some 10,000,000 people if you were to put them all together.
Further still the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare sheds some more light on drug use in Australia reporting that;
- 3.1 million people, aged 14 and older used illegal drugs in the last 12 months
- Use was highest among 20-29 year olds (28%)
- Illicit drug use of people in their 40s increased from 12% to 16% between 2001 and 2016
- Illicit drug use of people in their 50s increased from 6.7% to 12% between 2001 and 2016
Who needs drugs?
You’re right, no one necessarily needs them but we all use them and often. Consider your day to day could involve caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol or prescription medicine and yeah, if you abuse any of them they will have serious health implications. The thread that connects them though is education, support and labelling so you know the dangers… the same idea exists around pill testing.
Speaking of the illegal kind, below are people who have admitted to taking them, pictured with them or arrested with them;
- Johnny Cash
- Christopher Columbus
- John Lennon
- Michael Phelps
- Amy Winehouse
- Matthew McConaughey
- Elon Musk
- George Washington
- Tim Allen
- Queen Victoria
- Samuel L Jackson
- Sigmund Freud
- Carl Sagan
- John F Kennedy
- Aldous Huxley
This list isn’t to glorify illegal drugs, it just shows that some funny, interesting, clever and important people over time used drugs and it’s not just junkies or poor people who get around them and again, that people today, lots of them have or continue to take drugs.
Does pill testing work?
If by definition it works? Yes,. The aim is to figure out what is in the drugs tested and tell the user to the best of their abilities what it is and when possible, the dangers. None of the drugs tested are given a ‘green light’ either, it just says what is and what isn’t in there. It’s strictly an information resource for the user – sort of like labelling on alcohol and cigarettes.
Has it worked recently? Earlier this year at the Groovin The Moo festival a testing site was set up at the Canberra leg and identified two instances of dangerous chemicals within the pills, the users were told of that and they were given up to be destroyed. Did that mean two lives were saved? Theoretically yes. Adding to that, some 82% of young people want pill testing so why not give them it?
Pill testing has been happening in Europe for years now with a coalition of 30 Public Health and Harm Reduction organisations known as NEW-NET that work together that develop standards and best practices for drug testing and to promote health and safety in nightlife settings.
The UK has become the most recent backer of pill testing as a form of harm reduction with it taking place at much bigger events and festivals. The Loop, a non-profit organisation that runs pill testing were told they helped reduce drug related medical incidents by 25% at a recent festival. That roughly translates to less hospital visits and ‘burden’ on the tax payer. A win right?
Another similar example is the safe injecting room in Sydney (and now Melbourne) so people, if they choose to can use illegal drugs within a clean space that looks to reduce the spread of disease and has done so successfully. If they want, there are also options for support and education to kick the habit.
Personally, if pill testing results told me something poisonous or dangerous was in there, I would not be taking it.
What if the machines says a pill is safe and someone dies?
As far as we are aware from research, the testing machines are the same the government and pharmaceutical companies uses, so a damn close analysis of what is in there is identified. If you choose to take a drug after you’ve found out there is some nasty stuff in there, then that is entirely your own fault BUT for the most part people want at least that information to make clearer decisions and when possible, bin the stuff!
But it’ll promote drug use!
Like ebay or gumtree or any marketplace online you really don’t know what you’re getting but, if you get something dodgy, chances are you’re not going to buy anything from that same seller right? Theoretically the same idea applies to the black market but without regulation regulation or any information you’re more in danger than not. This is no way condoning drug use (don’t do it), but at the very least if offers one step forward in knowing what dangers are out there and making informed decisions.
Who pays for pill testing?
This is still up in the air but like most things, event and festival organisers are willing to pay for it as they do most everything else to keep you safe. The ideal situation is a slush fund from all events and festivals and averages out the costs to keep people safe. One the data starts to be kept and organised there is a serious argument to put forward to governments to say it keeps people out of hospitals and that is a worthy investment vs people dying. Lets not start on the cost of drug detection dogs that get it wrong and often… maybe that could pay for pill testing?
Aren’t drug dogs stopping people taking drugs?
Time and time again the stats show drug detections dogs often get it wrong, some 60-70% of the time. How else to put it? Two thirds of strip searches found nothing in NSW last year. Still not getting your head around it, what about if we told you that 1124 people were strip searched because of a dog indication and drugs were found just 406 times. Imagine buying a car that only worked 30% of the time?
We’re at a point now where the government refuses to even consider pill testing once again as a viable way to reduce harm like it does with other dangerous substances (alcohol and cigarettes), refuses to acknowledge it’s success overseas and locally while championing the success of safe injecting rooms that is saving lives here yet continues it’s hardline approach to drugs while people continue to die.
What does the government have to lose from at least trialling pill testing for a whole year? If it’s a failure then they can put it to bed for good but you get the feeling that it might not just work out that way.