Published: 14 August 2019

There is no safe way to take "party drugs" or any other illicit drugs.

Pill testing services in no way condone, support or approve of the use of "party drugs" or any other illicit drugs and is only one aspect of a comprehensive drug policy.

Education will always be a critical component of any health related policy. A zero-tolerance approach denies the reality of historic and current drug use and can be contrary to effective harm minimisation and drug avoidance strategies and policies. 

Every generation of young people has engaged in risk taking behaviour whether related to alcohol, drugs, sex, driving or recreational activities. Regardless of these risk behaviours, young people do not deserve to die.

Every generation of young people has engaged in risk-taking behaviour whether related to alcohol, drugs, sex, driving or recreational activities. Regardless of these risk behaviours, young people do not deserve to die.

Another example of a harm minimisation approach related to road safety. Through a safe systems approach, we acknowledge that we cannot prevent every crash, but we can minimise the damage done, even when a person may have broken the law and participated in risky behaviour whilst driving.

Pill testing is first and foremost a medical intervention that provides education and health information from qualified medical and health practitioners, to patrons who are considering consuming an illicit drug, generally at music festivals.

Law enforcement remains crucial in the areas of manufacturing, supply and trafficking of illicit drugs at music festivals.

Qualified medical staff conduct a chemical analysis of samples brought by patrons, interpret the results and provide advice and information about the risks associated with consumption. Regardless of the results, all patrons are advised there is no safe level of drug use and are encouraged to dispose of their drugs in the amnesty bin provided.

 Ruth Forrest, Member for Murchison

The service does not leave people with a false sense of security that the makeup of a substance or pill is 'safe'. Rather, pill testing stations offer a last (and perhaps lifesaving) opportunity for someone to be informed of the serious risks and change their mind about taking an illicit drug. 

This can provide a 'way out' for a young person feeling the effects of peer pressure, providing a legitimate and face-saving reason to dispose of the pill and thus not expose themselves to those risks. Without this, some will not get a second chance.

Pill testing is now common place at music festivals in Europe and has proven to drastically reduce and even eliminate deaths. Research from the UK showed that two-thirds of patrons who had their pills tested decided not to consume the drugs, and those who took them anyway, consumed significantly less than planned and said they would warn their friends of the inherent risks.

The results of Australia's pill testing trials in Canberra have proved the merits of pill testing including all patrons disposing of their pills when found to contain an often lethal substance responsible for mass overdoses in Europe in recent years. 

Allowing young people to make informed choices is not, in any way, condoning drug use. Other health related harm minimisation programs include the needle and syringe exchange programs that have been effective and continue to be supported. 

Taking an approach that ignores the reality of youth culture does not actually assist those most at risk. We must take our heads out of the sand and accept, that though we may personally abhor illicit drug use, we need to face reality.

We can't possibly prevent all risk taking harms but we can act to reduce the risk and minimise the harm. Just 'saying no' and believing that your kids, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and kids of your friends wouldn't or don't take drugs is nave and denies the reality of youth culture.

As a community I am certain we are not willing to continue with a 'serves-you-right' mentality, for those harmed.

There is broad community and key stakeholder support for pill testing trails at music and other festivals in Tasmania, acknowledging that pill testing is not the panacea. Denial of the reality promotes ignorance. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is harmful.

I do not want to be one of those parents that get a knock on the door from the police to give you the worst possible news - one of your children is dead. It is time to consider how to integrate this health intervention in Tasmania.

The Advocate Wednesday 14 August, 2019

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