The Findings From Australia’s First Pill-Testing Trial Prove How Vital It Is

Almost half of participants learned their drugs weren't what they thought.

Pill testing

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Following another senseless death at a music festival over the weekend, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has once again proved she doesn’t understand pill testing.

Here’s a reminder: it works.

The full findings from Australia’s landmark first pill-testing trial have been released, repeating what harm reduction advocates have been saying for years — that pill-testing saves lives.

The results were taken from the Canberra leg of Groovin The Moo in April. 128 punters had illicit substances tested in a stall next to the medical tent, complete with drug counselling services and amnesty bins.

Of the statistics presented in STA-SAFE report, perhaps most striking was that only 43 percent of substances matched what patrons were expecting. That’s to say, almost half of the punters who had their drugs sampled had the complete wrong idea about what they were about to take.

The number is slightly higher when it comes to MDMA, the drug more than four out of five of participants thought they had. 55 percent of those samples did not feature the drug as a major component, though higher purity MDMA was more likely to be contained in capsules than tablets.

“This confirms that Australian MDMA has higher rates of substitution or impurities in the tablets sold on the unregulated market,” the report states. “The testing also confirmed that there is significant variability in the purity of illicit drugs being consumed.”

Shortly after the festival, promising preliminary numbers were released — most notably, of the 85 samples tested, two were determined to have potentially deadly substances.

The report confirmed that the pill-testing changed punter’s actions — sixty-one percent of participants said they were surprised by the results, and 18 percent indicated they would either discard of the drugs or were uncertain what to do.

Overall, the report determines that “pill-testing as a harm reduction service at the ACT GTM can be described as an overwhelming success”. STA-SAFE also recommendED a nation-wide rollout at both music festivals and in fixed spaces, similar to other harm reduction measures such as needle rooms.

That’s echoed by the multiple ACT health and police officials quoted in the report.

“We didn’t see anyone who’d been to pill-testing,” said ACT Ambulance Commander Toby Keen. “It’s worthwhile noting the people we transported for acute intoxication hadn’t been to pill-testing which I think is actually a good success marker for the pill-testing.”

Photo by James Simpson, via Groovin The Moo Facebook