Expert support for pill testing

As MDMA use in Australia increases, some experts are calling for pill testing to help reduce the risk of drug induced emergencies.

The 2016 Global Drug Survey tested about 5000 Australians and found there had been an increase of almost 13 per cent in the use of MDMA, also knowns as ecstasy, since 2015.

Despite this, the organisers of the Spilt Milk music festival, Kicks Entertainment, recently cancelled a pill testing trial which was set to take place in November in Canberra.

Pill testing is a chemical process used to determine the contents of ecstasy pills that aims to reduce the risk of harm by allowing people to find out exactly what they are taking.

National Drug Research Institute director Simon Lenton said informing people could greatly help reduce the risk of harm.

“For people who’ve bought a pill and decided they’re taking it, it’s important they know what’s in that pill as it can inform their decisions about whether they take it and how much they take,” Professor Lenton said.

Pill testing in countries where it is legal, such as the Netherlands and Austria, has been generally well received.

In 2015 the Netherlands’ Drug Information and Monitoring System detected a batch of highly dangerous pills, and televised a country-wide warning.

In the UK, where pill testing is not legal, the same batch of pills killed four people and hospitalised others.

Professor Lenton said the European experience showed the value of pill testing.

“It’s an approach that’s proven successful overseas and we obviously have a problem here with people taking pills when they don’t know what’s in them,” he said.

“This is a proven intervention. Let’s see how it works in Australia.”

Evidence shows that as ecstasy use in Australia is increasing, so is the number of people seeking emergency medical treatment due to the drug.

The Global Drug Survey found between 2015-2016 the number of ecstasy users in Australia seeking emergency treatment increased from 0.4 per cent to 1.1 per cent over 12 months.

In the short term, ecstasy use can cause increased blood pressure, seizures and dehydration, and in the long term it can cause depression and anxiety.

Woodlands Family Practice GP David Jameson said ecstasy use came with risks.

“MDMA is dangerous if used in the wrong way, but one of the biggest risks is certainly not knowing what you’re actually getting when you buy your ecstasy,” Dr Jameson said.

Despite support for pill testing, the ACT government cancelled the upcoming trial because of an apparent lack of documentation.

Among festival-goers, pill testing is often supported.

Lucas Chambers, 20, from Nedlands, believes pill testing should be legal at music festivals.

“Most people try and check what they’re taking online, but it’s definitely not as safe as having them properly tested,” he said.

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