Media Release – Pill Testing Australia releases detailed report from second pilot conducted at Groovin The Moo!
Pill Testing Australia have released a detailed operational report on the second Australian pill testing pilot conducted at Groovin The Moo in April and are calling on state governments to support their service Australia wide.
The report shows that the free service for consumers tested 170 substances for 234 participants, twice the number tests conducted at the first pill testing pilot a year earlier. Seven dangerous substances containing N-ethyl pentylone were identified, with patrons being alerted to the dangers of the substance. On learning about the potential harms from the substances they possessed, all patrons used the amnesty bin to discard them rather than consume the substances as previously planned Emergency Medicine Consultant Dr David Caldicott oversaw the clinical team at both pilots in Canberra and said the overarching aim of the second pilot was to provide a health service to reduce the harms associated with drugs and to broadly diminish the health, social and economic costs of drug use. “Pill testing services offer a unique and efficacious opportunity to engage with young people and effect positive behavioural change to reduce the risk of drug-related harm. This cohort is unlikely to have ever had contact with health services in relation to their drug use.” Dr Caldicott said. In Switzerland, it has been reported that since the implementation of the pill testing service SaferParty in Zurich, there have been no ecstasy-related deaths.
The introduction of pill testing at one UK festival in 2016 occurred during a time when festival drug-related incidents in the UK were at their highest on record. The number of drug-related hospitalisations at this festival reduced by 95% from the previous year, from 19 hospitalisations to one. “There is no doubt among experts and health industry bodies that providing a pill testing service which includes face to face interactions for patrons with health and medical professionals significantly reduces harm and the consumption of dangerous illicit drugs.” Said Dr Caldicott. “With two pill testing pilots conducted in Australia having provided the data that supports this theory the onus really is on those who oppose pill testing to provide more than empty rhetoric to support their position.” Dr Caldicott continued.
The parents of 22-year-old Joshua Tam who died on 29 December 2018 at Lost Paradise music festival recently called for a change in harm-minimisation measures, saying the “just-don’t-do-it approach” to drugs was failing and that recreational use would not “magically disappear”. Jennie Ross King whose daughter Alex fatally overdosed at a Sydney music festival has voiced her support for the evidence-based harm reduction strategy and said the pill-testing debate was “getting beyond a joke” after she received a first-hand look at the logistics of testing at the Splendour in the Grass in July. Pill Testing Australia are the leaders in health and medical based laboratory grade pill testing at festivals in Australia. They are run by a group of volunteers passionate about reducing harm and providing important proven preventative health care. An independent evaluation conducted by the Australian National University will also be released later this year
— ends —
Available for interview: Dr David Caldicott – 0478 906 634 Gino Vumbaca – 0408 244 552
Monday 29 April 2019
For Immediate Release
Second pill testing pilot in Canberra an overwhelming success
Pill Testing Australia has successfully implemented a 2nd Pill Testing Pilot at the Groovin the Moo Festival in Canberra
Preliminary key facts:
- The pill testing medical service tested substances for 234 participants, some arrived individually and some as groups, with a total of 171 samples being tested;
- MDMA was the prominent substance identified and to a lesser extent cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamines;
- 7 dangerous substances containing n-ethylpentylone were also identified, with patrons being alerted to the dangers of the substance. After learning about the potential harms from the substances they possessed they all used the amnesty bin to discard these drugs;
- Health warnings and safety information were provided to all patrons presenting at the pill testing service;
- The trial had the full support of Groovin the Moo promoters, the ACT Government, including Police & Health services, as a critical harm reduction measure;
- Feedback from patrons was overwhelmingly positive, with many participants saying that they would reconsider or take less of the substances they had in their possession;
Pill Testing Australia has today (28th April 2019) helped reduce drug related harm by giving young people access to pill testing services at a music festival. The 2nd pill testing pilot was again overwhelmingly successful by any measure but particularly by doing everything possible to keep patrons safe.
One key outcome of the pill testing service was its ability to work closely with ACT Medical Services at the festival.
Pill Testing Australia recognises that without the incredible work done by Steph Tzanetis, David Caldicott, Mal McLeod and their respective brief intervention, medical and chemist teams – the pill testing service offered would not have been possible.
Our thanks also go to the incredible wisdom shown by the Groovin the Moo promoters and the ACT Government (including ACT Police and ACT Health) in supporting Pill Testing Australia volunteers to provide more information to patrons to reduce harm from drugs.
Please Pill Testing Australia’s crowdfunding campaign at www.pilltestingaustralia.com.au for pill testing pilots to take place across Australia.
— ends —
Well… hello, Australia!
My name is David Caldicott, it’s entirely possible that you may have seen or heard me harping on about harm minimisation in general and pill testing in particular over the last decade or so. If so, sorry about the prior intrusion and apologies again for this one but it’s important stuff!
Last year, on the smell of an oily rag and the goodwill of the ACT Government & Groovin’ The Moo, Pill Testing Australia conducted Australia’s first-ever government sanctioned pilot of pill testing in Canberra. We are back again this year- bigger and better – with our second outing on April 28th.
The support from the medical and scientific community for pill testing is pretty much unanimous, no matter what some Australian politicians would have you believe.
Over a dozen professional medical bodies, medical, nursing, paramedical and pharmaceutical now stand with us and 20 years of global data shows that shows pill testing reduces drug consumption and reduces harm.
We’ve committed to offer free pill testing trials for any state or territory in Australia and we’re asking for your help to deliver on this commitment.
Our first target is to raise $100,000 to help roll out more pill testing trials in other jurisdictions around Australia, and to buy a couple of schmick pieces of tech to do the testing (ALPHA II FTIR spectrophotometers). We also need the money to assist with logistics, resources and volunteer travel.
While $100k is a great start, if we can come together as a dedicated progressive community and raise a bucket load more, we can really take the fight to the those who oppose this initiative and get this essential harm reduction strategy implemented nationwide.
To donate and to find out more about Pill Testing Australia and our amazing team of volunteers click here – www.pilltestingaustralia.com.au
Dr David Caldicott
For many years experts in the field of drug policy in Australia have known existing policies are failing. Crude messages (calls for total abstinence: “just say no to drugs”) and even cruder enforcement strategies (harsher penalties, criminalisation of drug users) have had no impact on the use of drugs or the extent of their harmful effects on the community.
Whether we like it or not, drug use is common in our society, especially among young people. In 2016 43% of people aged 14 and older reported they had used an illicit drug at some point in their lifetime. And 28% of people in their twenties said they had used illicit drugs in the past year.
The use of MDMA (the active ingredient in ecstasy) is common and increasing among young people. In the last three months alone five people have died as a result of using illicit drugs at music festivals and many more have been taken to hospital.
The rigid and inflexible attitudes of current policy-makers contrast dramatically with the innovative approaches to public health policy for which Australia was once renowned. Since the 1970s many highly successful campaigns have improved road safety, increased immunisation rates in children and helped prevent the spread of blood-borne virus infections.
The wearing of seatbelts was made compulsory throughout Australia in the early 1970s. Randomised breath testing and the wearing of helmets by bike riders were introduced in the 1980s. These measures alone have saved many thousands of lives.
The introduction of needle exchange and methadone treatment programs in the late 1980s and, more recently, widespread access to effective treatments for hepatitis C have dramatically reduced the health burden from devastating infections such as HIV and the incidence of serious liver disease.
Each of these programs had to overcome vigorous and sustained hostility from opponents who argued they would do more harm than good. But in all cases the pessimists were proved wrong. Safety measures on the roads did not cause car drivers and bike riders to behave more recklessly. The availability of clean needles did not increase intravenous drug use. Easier access to condoms did not lead to greater risk taking and more cases of AIDS.
We believe — along with many other experts in the field — that as was the case for these earlier programs, the evidence presently available is sufficient to justify the careful introduction of trials of pill testing around Australia.
Specifically, we support the availability of facilities to allow young people at venues or events where drug taking is acknowledged to be likely to seek advice about the substances they’re considering ingesting.
These facilities should include tests for the presence of known toxins or contaminants to help avert the dangerous effects they may produce. Such a program should be undertaken in addition to, and not instead of, other strategies to discourage or deter young people from taking illicit drugs.
Although pill testing has been widely and successfully applied in many European countries over a twenty year period, it has to be admitted the evidence about the degree of its effectiveness remains incomplete. That’s why any program in Australia should be linked to a rigorously designed data collection process to assess its impact and consequences.
However, we do know that the argument that pill testing programs will increase drug use and its associated harms is very unlikely to be true. Most people seeking advice about the constituents of their drugs will not take them if they are advised that they contain dangerous contaminants.
And it’s easy to avoid false reassurances about safety by careful explanations and detailed information. The opportunity to provide face-to-face advice to young people about the risks of drug taking is one of the great strengths of pill testing programs.
Over the last half century we have learnt public health programs have to utilise multiple strategies and provide messages carefully and tailored for different audiences. What works to combat the harms associated with drug-taking in prisons is different from what works for specific cultural groups or for young people attending music festivals.
The available evidence suggests pill testing is an effective and useful approach to harm minimisation in this last group. We believe it has the capacity to decrease ambulance calls to festival-goers, help change behaviour and save lives.
It has taken until now for pill testing techniques to be developed to a level where they are able to identify the constituents in analysed samples with sufficient precision, reliability and speed. These techniques, and the range of substances for which they can test, will continue to improve over time. On the basis of experience gained in the UK, Europe and Australia it’s clear pill testing is now feasible and practicable.
The members of the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine within the Royal Australasian College of Physicians are the main clinical experts in the field of addiction medicine in this country. Together with the Australian Medical Association and many prominent members of the community with experience in this area we feel this is the time for pill testing to be introduced, albeit in careful and controlled circumstances. We believe this position is also supported by peer users, concerned families, and past and present members of police forces across Australia.
The fact the “War on Drugs” has failed does not mean we should give up. There are many new weapons available to us, as we have learnt from the successful public health campaigns of the past. Pill testing will not abolish all the harms associated with drug taking, but if handled carefully, carries the likelihood of reducing them significantly.
Martyn Lloyd Jones has received funding from pharmaceutical companies Indivior and AbbVie for providing educational content and advice. He is an addiction specialist working in Melbourne and the President of the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine, Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
Professor Paul Komesaroff is a practising physician and President of Adult Medicine in the Royal Australian College of Physicians.