November 12, 2019 11:55:28
Pill testing explained
The Victorian ambulance union has weighed in on the pill testing debate, putting forward a proposal which would see festival-goers notified in real time if a batch of drugs has tested positive to poisonous substances.
The union’s general secretary, Danny Hill, said the proposal was “a sensible halfway point” that should be implemented before this summer’s festival season.
“What we’re suggesting is a half measure known as back-of-house drug testing, which is effectively where police and security will confiscate drugs where they find them — using the techniques they currently use, including sniffer dogs — but it’s those drugs that end up being tested,” he said.
“Then using digital technology we can get messaging out to the people at the festival very quickly that the drugs that they’re about to take might have tested positive to chemicals, solvents and poisonous substances.
“And hopefully in doing so convince them not to take it, dispose of it and eventually save their life.”
Mr Hill said the back-of-house method, where confiscated drugs were tested rather than festival-goers volunteering them for testing, had already “saved lives” in the United Kingdom.
But the union wants to see local authorities step up the use of digital technology to ensure information about dodgy batches gets out to smartphone users at a festival immediately.
“Everyone has an iPhone now,” Mr Hill said.
“If they can get a message to them … that the drug that they’re about to take could kill them, then hopefully they make a smarter decision not to take it.”
The union has written to the State Government about the proposal, which they say would also reduce assaults on paramedics, and has met with Mental Health Minister Martin Foley.
“I’d describe it as a positive conversation but certainly no commitments yet,” Mr Hill said.
Pill testing ‘will lead to deaths’
Police Minister Lisa Neville told Melbourne radio station 3AW the Government was not going to change its position on pill testing.
“Police already do an early warning system, so where they become aware of batches of drugs that are in the market that are a problem, they will distribute that information to communities and users,” she said.
She said Victoria had seen eight drug-related deaths at festivals over a 17-year period.
“So we’ve just got to be careful about the scale of this and what the messages are around pill testing,” she said.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said his party would not support any form of testing.
“Illicit drugs are illegal for a reason, because inherently they are unsafe,” he said.
“Pill testing is like asking you to choose between arsenic and cyanide, they are both forms of poison that can kill people.
“Police have said pill testing will simply give people a false sense of security and that will lead to deaths.”
Greens and Reason Party team up for pill testing bill
Meanwhile, the Victorian Greens and the Reason Party will today introduce their own co-sponsored bill to State Parliament, calling for a two-year trial of a mobile and fixed-location pill testing facilities.
Reason Party leader Fiona Patten said people who volunteered for pill testing would be offered a 15-minute “intervention” that would involve a talk with the person about their lives and the effects the drug might have.
“No one gets a substance back after it’s been tested,” she said.
“They are told what’s in that substance, and [when observing similar programs overseas] I didn’t see a single person not want to have a conversation about drugs.
“Instead of seeing a dealer, they’re seeing a doctor.”
Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said the proposed pilot program would be run by licenced operators and would cost $3 million.
“Young people are put in harm’s way because they’re not given information, they’re not given access to pill testing, which we know helps save people’s lives,” she said.
Ms Ratnam said she welcomed the acknowledgement by the ambulance union that pill testing was needed, but said front of house testing was essential.
“You need the front of house testing as well so you can get the information and education to young people,” she said.
Coroner recommends pill testing for NSW
The Victorian debate come less than a week after a coroner recommended pill testing be conducted in New South Wales, along with the decriminalisation of personal drug use and the scrapping of sniffer dogs at music festivals.
Deputy NSW coroner Harriet Grahame led an inquest into the drug-related deaths of six young people, aged 18 to 23, at NSW music festivals.
Delivering her findings on Friday, Ms Grahame said there was “compelling” evidence to support pill testing.
“Drug checking is simply an evidence-based harm reduction strategy that should be trialled as soon as possible in NSW,” she said.
“The evidence arising from this inquest clearly indicates there is much that can be done to prevent MDMA deaths.”
November 12, 2019 11:23:42