Experts plea for more action on illegal drugs

Another summer goes by as experts continue to call for the prevention of avoidable drug-related deaths through pill testing.

As festival season dies down, the conversation around pill testing and recreational drug use remains a significant topic. Curtin University National Drug Research Insitute expert Steve Allsop warned there needed to be a fresh approach taken to prevent further injuries and deaths.

“Let’s try something different” he said.

Fremantle Falls Festival. Photo: Gracen Murphy

The first pill testing trial in Australia was carried out at the ‘Groovin the Moo’ festival in Canberra last month.

About seven pills were identified as potentially lethal and subsequently disposed of, according to Pill Testing Australia.

Professor Allsop said the benefits and positives of pill testing in Australia were still relatively unknown.

“Some people are saying it’s going to encourage people to take drugs and some people are saying it’s going to save lives, well let’s test that,” he said.

“I get why people think it might send the wrong message, but it’s a bit like two people standing next to a car and one saying, the car is going to start, and the other saying it’s not, but no one has bothered to get inside the car and turn the key.”

Professor Allsop said there needed to be major reforms in drug policy.

“We can’t keep doing what we’re doing,” he said.

“People die. Let’s try something different, and let’s carefully evaluate it.

“It’s too serious an issue in terms of the health consequences and the unnecessary deaths to keep doing what we’re doing.”

Edith Cowan University senior lecturer in addiction Stephen Bright believes public opinion is shifting in the mainstream media.

“When you have Kochie on the morning show, sunrise, taking a stance by advocating drug testing, I think the debate’s just about wound up” he said.

Television personality David Koch questioned the NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian’s hardline approach to pill testing on the morning television show Sunrise earlier this year, advocating for the implementation of pill testing services.

Dr Bright said it was only a matter of time before the attitudes and laws surrounding pill testing shifted considerably.

“There are people like the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian , that are still quite opposed to it, but with mounting evidence and increasing media pressure, I think eventually there will be another jurisdiction that implements it,” he said.

“So, we have the Australian Capital Territory at the moment already trialling pill testing, and I think Queensland or New South Wales will be next.”

Dr Bright said implementing pill testing had the potential to decrease drug use.

“There are also claims it increases drug use,” he said.

“It actually does the opposite based on the evidence. So, when people are provided with information that their pill doesn’t contain MDMA, most people chuck it in the bin.”

University of Western Australia health promotion unit manager Tricia Wylde said whilst the pill testing debate was important, education was key in highlighting the risks of more accepted drugs like alcohol.

“While there has been a lot of media attention regarding recreational drug use and the implementation of drug testing at music festivals, alcohol is still the most problematic drug in terms of harm over a lifetime,” she said.

“Regardless of which is the drug of choice, and remembering they are often used in combination, education is the critical factor, so that young people can make informed choices”.

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