Public health and nursing academic Dr Margie Harris explains why she is disgusted by the Government’s refusal to implement pill testing, despite the recommendations of the Deputy Coroner.
As a public health academic of over 25 years, specialising in health promotion as well as alcohol and other drugs (AOD), I am a passionate advocate of harm minimisation. A brief reminder – harm minimisation has been a key policy of the Australian state and federal governments since 1985 and aims to reduce the harm caused by AOD by considering the health, social and economic consequences of AOD on individuals and the wider community. It is strongly supported by scientific evidence. Pill testing fits all these criteria. Pill testing allows people to be aware of the content of illegal drugs, allowing them to make informed choices.
According to the position statement of the Drug and Alcohol Nurses Association of Australasia (2019):
- Pill testing has been shown to change the black market. Products identified as particularly dangerous that subsequently became the subject of warning campaigns were found to leave the market.
- Research shows that over time the ingredients of tested pills started to match the expected components. This suggests pill testing might be able to change the black market in positive ways.
- Pill testing changes behaviour: research shows 50% of those who had their drugs tested said the results affected their consumption choices. Two-thirds said they wouldn’t consume the drug and would warn friends in cases of negative results.
- Visits to pill-testing booths create an opportunity for providing support and information over and above the testing itself. They enable drug services to contact a population that is otherwise difficult to reach.
- The intervention has been used to establish contact and as the basis for follow-up work with members of not-yet-problematic, but nevertheless high-risk, groups of recreational drug users.
- Pill testing enables the capture of long-term data about the actual substances present in drugs. It creates the potential for an early warning system beyond immediate users. This is becoming all the more important as new psychoactive substances that may be used as adulterants are appearing more frequently.
To refute the benefits of harm minimisation in terms of pill testing is not just dangerously irresponsible, it is quite frankly, embarrassing. Premier Gladys Berejiklian is clearly putting politics before the lives of (mostly) young Australians by blocking pill testing. Let alone ignoring the recommendations of the Deputy Coroner. This is irrefutable. Shame on her.