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Drug experts and government set for pill testing showdown in Australia

Harm-minimisation advocates are preparing for mass arrests

  • SCOTT CARBINES
  • 1 March 2016

Australian drug experts and harm-minimisation advocates are gearing up for the possibility of a showdown with the New South Wales (NSW) government over pill testing.

At the weekend, Dr Alex Wodak spearheaded an announcement that he and a team of doctors, analysts and interviewers would begin trials of pill testing at Sydney music festivals and events, with or without the support of the conservative NSW government, which has repeatedly stated it would not back the measure.

In response to the announcement, NSW Deputy Premier and Police Minister Troy Grant, who has previously stated music festivals cause drug overdoses and that there is no proof pill testing could save lives, has almost outdone himself. Speaking on 2UE radio, Grant said Dr Wodak and others would be putting themselves in "legal jeopardy" if they went ahead with the trials as planned, and could be arrested for possession, supply of drugs, or worse. “If these (tested) pills go wrong and kill someone, they may well be vulnerable to manslaughter charges,” Grant said. "We are open to new ideas (really?) but there's no way we are running quality assurance for drug dealers."

Will Tregoning, founder of drug law reform agency Unharm and part of the team planning to introduce pill testing, said the possibility of mass arrests was being factored into their plans. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the program would be carried out inside a van staffed by toxicologists and shielded from police by a barrier of supporters risking arrest to protect others from prosecution.

"We absolutely have to create that sense of trust around the service," Tregoning told the paper. "One way we will be doing that is by ensuring there are very many supporters of the service present to essentially create a buffer from police activity for consumers accessing the service."

Tregoning said the trials would begin in the most receptive state, which definitely doesn't look like NSW, but organisers are committed to setting up there before the end of the year. So there'll be some interesting months ahead. We know who we're backing. Summed up by Tregoning: “As long as government continues to stand in the way of this service they are making it more likely that people will die."

Scott Carbines is Mixmag's Australian Online News Editor, follow him on Twitter.

[Via: Sydney Morning Herald]

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