The debate around pill testing continues in Australia, with a bill set to be introduced into the Victorian Parliament today, co-sponsored by the Victorian Greens and Reason Party.
The bill seeks to introduce a pill testing trial in Victoria over two years, featuring a pill testing service for major music festivals across the state, including both mobile and fixed-site services.
It is the first time that two parties have united in the history of the Victorian Parliament to bring about reform, “a monumental step”, welcomed by drug harm reduction advocates DanceWize.
“Harm reduction or a health focused approach to drug law reform is not a single party issue; it’s public health. So it’s fantastic that two of the minor parties have joined together for this,” Stephanie Tzanetis, DanceWize Program Coordinator, told Neos Kosmos.
Pill testing continues to be a controversial topic, but as a public health issue, Ms Tzanetis it shouldn’t be, and has been over politicised.
While it has been argued that the government implementing a pill testing service would essentially be a green light to use drugs, she says the opposite is true.
“We know that Australia uses illicit drugs to an extent that is almost unparalleled around the world, and we experience a high rate of drug related harm including unintentional drug related deaths. So to continue without taking any action when we know there’s options out there, that omission may be seen as reckless or negligent,” Ms Tzanetis says.
Just last week, Deputy NSW coroner Harriet Grahame, who led an inquest into the drug-related deaths of six young people at music festivals, said her findings revealed compelling evidence to support pill testing and “should be trialled as soon as possible”.
According to the Greens, the establishment of pill testing sites would equate to $1.2 million, with staffing costs an additional $1.3 million.
Victoria’s Ambulance Union has also shown their support. On Tuesday a proposal was put forward for back-of-house testing, where confiscated drugs would be tested. Through digital technology, they would then warn festival-goers of any bad batches of drugs that may be circulating.
While Ms Tzanetis welcomes the support, she says the back-of-house approach would see only a small fraction of samples tested, some of which may not even have any branding, and misses the chance for engagement and education.
“The model that they’re actually suggesting doesn’t come close to the full health benefits that are available from public facing drug checking services. The back-of-house approach to drug checking would mean that maybe less than 1 per cent of samples are being put forward to a drug checking service in a single event, compared to what might be hundreds or thousands of samples if you make it a public facing service,” she explains.
“Also the interaction between the person considering using a drug and health professionals and other peer based harm reduction workers, that’s the real value in the service because you get to make people aware of their risks, the services available to them, give them options about how to mitigate their risks and prioritise their self care.”
What is also significant about the new bill is that it advocates for pill testing to be available year round, at a fixed site, beyond the festival setting.
“We have to always remember the majority of drug related harm, including deaths, they don’t happen at festivals at all, they happen in the home or in isolation.”