In a groundbreaking Australian-first, the ACT government will allow free pill testing to take place at the Spilt Milk music festival in Canberra on November 25.
The move follows months of negotiations between the Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE) consortium and the ACT government.
ACT Minister for Health and Wellbeing Meegan Fitzharris says the government does not condone drug use and that the service will be a way of keeping young people safe.
“The ACT Government has carefully assessed the proposal from STA-Safe and will allow pill testing at Spilt Milk,” Minister Fitzharris said.
“Pill testing means young people who are considering taking drugs can be informed about what’s really in the their pills and how potent they are. And it creates an opportunity to remind them of the risks before they make the final decision to take a drug.
“There is no evidence that having pill testing available results in increased illicit drug taking,” she said.
— Colleen Hartland MP (@ColleenHartland) September 22, 2017
Pill testing at Spilt Milk, which will be an anonymous (your name or other identifying details won’t be recorded) and free service, will be provided by Harm Reduction Australia.
President of Harm Reduction Australia Gino Vumbaca welcomed the ACT government’s decision.
“Good on the ACT,” Mr Vumbaca told Triple J’s Hack program. “They’re quite progressive and they’re actually prepared to have an open mind and listen to the science and evidence.
“We’re talking about safe drug use. We want people to be as safe as they can be when they’re using drugs, and that means knowing what they’re actually using.
“One thing that we’ve made very clear is that we won’t be telling people that it’s safe to use a particular drug. There are harms associated with any drug use. What we’re trying to do is make it safer.
“It won’t be promoting drug use, but it won’t be condemning drug use either. It will be a non-judgmental approach.”
Will police catch punters on their way out?
It’s not a trap: entering the pill testing area won’t mean you’ll be sprung by police afterwards, Gino Vumbaca says.
“There’s no public health interest in police doing that.
“The best analogy I can give is needle and syringe programs. When we first started those in Australia, what police could have done is sit outside the needle and syringe program, see who went in and see who came out, and then make arrests.
“That would shut down the service and no one would ever go again,” he said.
How will the test work?
Mr Vumbaca said there would be a short survey taken about what drugs people think they’re taking.
“And then there will be a very small scraping of the pill they’ll provide for testing and analysis. That normally takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
“People will be able to find out, if they’re going to take a particular substance, what it is they’re actually taking, compared to what they think they’re taking,” he said.
Volunteers will provide “face-to-face education” to punters at the service, Minister Fitzharris said.
If a punter decides to not take their drugs after seeing the test results, amnesty bins will be available on site. The bins will contain bleach to destroy the drugs on site.
If you get a poor test result, but take it anyway – who’s liable?
What happens if you have your drugs tested, get a concerning result, but decide to take them anyway? Could Harm Reduction Australia or the other groups on site be liable for what happened to you?
Mr Vumbaca says the consortium has received legal advice on this issue, and that it isn’t a “black and white” scenario.
“Our understanding is we wouldn’t be [liable],” Gino says.