Harm reduction advocates intend to distribute thousands of free, legal kits despite firm opposition by the NSW government.
According to Fairfax Media, harm reduction advocates will aim to widely distribute thousands of free, DIY testing kits at large-scale events deemed to be hotspots for party drug use over the coming months, despite opposition from the NSW government.
The kits—the same used by police to identify specific substances, which are legal to possess—will be able to confirm the presence of a particular drug like MDMA in a pill. They will not, however, be able to detect any other harmful substances, nor can they indicate strength or purity. Harm Reduction Australia president Gino Vumbaca told Fairfax that "this is definitely not our preferred option, it is our only available option. We are heading into festival season, we witnessed a number of deaths last year. The unfortunate reality is, tragedies will again occur this summer."
Among last summer's drug-related fatalities were two deaths at Stereosonic, the now-defunct nationwide event which was Australia's largest electronic music festival. The deaths sparked widespread public debate on the issue of pill-testing, which in February led drug experts Dr Alex Wodak and Dr David Caldicott to suggest a privately funded trial with laboratory-grade testing equipment to be carried out at at-risk events. NSW Premier Mike Baird stated at the time that "we're not going to be condoning in any way what illegal drug dealers are doing and that's what this is about so we're certainly not supporting it," labelling the initiative "absolutely ridiculous."
Premier Baird and his government's stance on the issue has remained unchanged. Vumbaca said that "when it came to discussing the available options with government, we couldn't even get a foot in the door. We have since decided we cannot sit back idly and do nothing." Caldicott also commented on the new, "toned-down" plan. "I'm frustrated that we are forced down this road, largely as a consequence of real inaction by political leadership," he said. "There is a far better way we could do this, but they [the government] have ignored the evidence and expertise available to them."
The controversial subject of pill-testing was explored by Luis-Manuel Garcia in his feature on drugs policies and electronic music culture back in January.
Photo credit: Vice