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Drug experts to trial pill testing in Australia

"I am prepared to break the law to save young people's lives," says Dr Alex Wodak

  • 29 February 2016

Leading Australian drug experts have vowed to begin pill testing trials at music festivals in Australia, with or without government backing.

Fairfax Media reports president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation Dr Alex Wodak and emergency medical specialist Dr David Caldicott have announced they will soon commence a privately-funded pill testing trial at Sydney events without the all-clear from the conservative New South Wales (NSW) government, which has repeatedly stated it will not support the harm-minimisation measure.

"We are going to do this," Dr Wodak told Fairfax. "Doctors, analysts who know how to operate the (testing) machines and peer interviewers who can translate the scientific results and explain to people why the drug they bought is talcum powder or highly toxic. The idea is to save lives. I am prepared to break the law to save young people's lives."

Dr Caldicott said the idea was straight forward. "We want to run a trial at a place where everyone is using drugs anyway," he said. “It’s time for our politicians and elected representatives to catch up with what the majority of parents want for their children, which is for them to return home safe."

The NSW government and police currently enforce a hard-line approach to drugs at music festivals and events, which involves a heavy police presence and sniffer dog operations. And there has been no hint at any plans to move towards a safer approach including pill testing. Deputy Premier and Police Minister Troy Grant recently told Four Corners: "I absolutely do not (support pill testing). (Be)cause pill testing will not save a life ... a pill testing regime may well tell you what's in that pill but it has no way to tell you whether it will kill you or not."

But Dr Wodak said he and his team were prepared to go against the government. "I think Troy Grant's comments have made it clear that the government has shut the door on the possibility that pill testing could even be trialled," he said. "Deaths are recurring at an increasing rate. Although it is clear that the current strategy, largely reliant on sniffer dogs, does not work in terms of reducing drug use or harm. There is zero willingness by the police minister to even contemplate options. How can this be?"

He said the trial would need the permission of event organisers and he had his eye on a few well-known festivals in 2016, such as Stereosonic and Splendour In The Grass, which takes place at the end of July.

One of Australia's leading health experts, Dr Wodak pioneered the country's first safe-injecting facility in the 1990s and told Fairfax he had faith in the NSW Premier to do the right thing eventually. "He's a real human being. He has showed he has compassion," he said.

Earlier this year Baird declared he would look at banning music festivals as a measure to prevent drug-related deaths and hospitalisations. So any support from the NSW government on pill testing still looks a long way off. But let's hope the brave move can spur the government in the right direction. You can read our feature on why banning festivals in Australia is pointless, which includes comment from our discussion with Dr Wodak, here.

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

[Via: Fairfax Media]

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