This Is What’s Stopping Pill Testing From Happening At All Australian Festivals
It's super simple.
Last Friday, the ACT Government made history by giving the green light for pill testing to take place at Canberra festival Spilt Milk.
The decision was an Australian-first by a state or territory government, and it was a huge win for organisations such as Harm Reduction Australia, Unharm, and Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE), who have tirelessly advocated for the practice to be instigated at events around the country.
The free and anonymous operation (run by HRA) will see participants answer a short survey about their substance and submit a small sample, whereupon they’ll receive a detailed analysis of exactly what chemicals are present in the drug — allowing them to make an informed decision about it before ingesting it.
Read more about the specifics here.
“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,” ACT Minister for Health and Wellbeing Meegan Fitzharris told triple j’s Hack. “[The service] remind [people] of the risks before they make the final decision to take a drug.”
It’s an excellent step forward by the ACT Government — so what about the other states? New South Wales and Victoria have taken a notoriously hard line against the practice in recent years, but is there a chance this recent decision could turn the tide, or at least restart the conversation?
To find out Music Junkee spoke to Will Tregoning, the Executive Director of safety organisation Unharm, about the realities of taking pill testing Australia wide.
Can Pill Testing Happen In Any Other States Right Now?
“There’s no reason why it can’t happen in NSW and other states — it absolutely can happen,” Tregoning told us. “The only reason that it’s not happening is that we have a political problem. The people in power who have the capacity to enable pill testing to proceed are opposed to it.
“Troy Grant, the NSW Police Minister, has been particularly prominent among the people that are obstructing pill testing. He knew that he disagreed with it before he even understood what it was, and has continued to completely disengage with any reasonable consideration of it as a service that promotes safety. Instead, he’s dug in behind the status quo — which is a policing-led strategy that tries to prevent the use of drugs at all.
“It is a strategy which has and always will fail, and while it’s failing it makes drug use more harmful. I’m alluding to things like high profile drug detection dog operations at events which only exacerbate the harm of prohibited substance abuse.”
For those who don’t remember: NSW Police Minister Troy Grant was that great guy who told Sydney radio station 2UE last year that drug experts who brought pill-testing to festivals could be charged with manslaughter.
Why Did The ACT Finally Make The Leap?
“It is purely the case of political courage and a respect for evidence,” Tregoning says.
“And for the need for better ways of promoting safety that respond to the reality of drug use. It has come about on the basis of sustained advocacy and activism in the ACT, but what made it possible was the people with the power to make that decision being willing to consider what has shown to be a really effective program.
“It’s been trialled across Europe and other countries for about 20 years now. There was a willingness in the ACT to look beyond a knee jerk kind of response, to look towards a more pragmatic and effective way to promote safety.”
What Happens If Festivals Decide To Implement Pill Testing Without Government Approval?
“Honestly, it wouldn’t even get to that point of being able to occur,” Tregoning admits. “The problem for a festival in NSW is that the testing would have to be completely under the radar — and it’s very hard to operate completely under the radar because of the high level of police involvement in festivals.
“The police are engaging with these events in a way that is monitoring them very closely, they’re monitoring the event and involved in the planning of the event.
“It would be impractical for a promoter to allow a pill testing service without it becoming known to the police, and for that to create future problems for them — they could be relying for police to sign off for future events.
“People who attend these events typically support the presence of police — everyone wants to feel safe. However almost no one supports the presence of police using dogs to search people for drugs.”
So… How Can We Make It Happen Across The Country?
The only way we can make pill testing a reality across the country is if we put pressure on the state governments — which means contacting your local state MP.
“We should all be phoning state MPs, that is absolutely what we should be doing,” Tregoning stresses. “MPs are very responsive to contact from their constituents — it has a real impact, they really do listen. We already know that the majority of Australians support pill testing, and over 80 percent of young people support pill testing. There’s a huge amount of support, but it’s about making MPs see and understand the strength of that support by taking the issue to them continually.”
The best way to get their attention, Tregoning advises, is a good old fashioned letter to your MP — or failing that, a phone call.
“MPs are very responsive to contact from their constituents — it has a real impact”
“Another way is activism through social media. It’s a genuine opportunity to engage with MPs, particularly through their Facebook — we should continually remind them that pill-testing should be happening. You can use the ACT’s Spilt Milk decision as a talking point, say ‘Hey, I think this is a thing that should be happening in NSW or Queensland or Victoria.’
If you don’t have time to write a letter for yourself, Unharm supplies already-completed letters through their Tests Not Arrests website — so you can hit up your state MP with nothing more than a couple of clicks. To send a letter to your MP, head here.
For more information about drug safety and pill testing, head to Unharm’s website.