Another summer, another life tragically lost to drugs at a music festival. 

It’s a tragedy made worse by the fact it could have and should have been prevented. 

Health professionals and experts have long been advocating for drug safety testing to be implemented, citing conclusive evidence accumulated over decades that pill testing reduces risk of harm.

Yet politicians refuse to act on this information, instead raising the same misguided objections.  

Drug safety testing does not increase consumption. On the contrary; people are more likely to discard drugs or limit intake if the drugs prove to be inconsistent with what they expected. This ultimately reduces the incidence of overdoses and possible fatalities. 

Drug safety testing has been conducted in overseas countries for decades. A prime example is the Drug Information and Monitoring System in The Netherlands which provides individual consumers with low-cost testing, both at drop-in centres and on-site at certain venues and festivals. 

These services include public health warnings which help remove dangerous batches of drugs from the market; drugs that result in users’ deaths in countries that lack these services. 

Australia has criminalised the personal possession and use of particular drugs. This creates a negative public perception regarding drug use which in turn makes it difficult for politicians to adopt sensible drug policies for fear of public backlash.

Yet a majority of people polled support pill testing, as do pharmacists and doctors. 

Criminalisation creates an unregulated black market which fosters organised crime and results in unsafe products made in kitchens and bathtubs instead of safer, pharmaceutical-grade products made in laboratories. 

It also stigmatises and derails the lives of people with addiction; people who are harming no one else but themselves and would be better served with a public health response. 

Criminalisation fails as a deterrent, as does the use of drug detection dogs. A survey of 2000 festival goers found that 10% consumed all their drugs in panic when they saw sniffer dogs. This has, in some cases, resulted in deaths. Dogs are unreliable in detecting drugs and have been the cause of unnecessary, invasive strip searches. 

Being tough on crime is not enough – we need to be smart on crime too. 

The upfront cost of drug safety testing is relatively minor; indeed, a simple reallocation of public money currently spent on drug detection dogs would more than fully fund it. It would also save costs of emergency services and hospitalisations.  Drug safety testing is a proven harm reduction measure. Drug detection dogs increase drug-related harm. We should be funding measures that reduce harm, not measures that increase it. 

Drug safety testing is not a silver bullet, but it is a proven harm reduction measure that will save lives.

People are dying. Experts keep telling us that drug safety testing can help. We should listen to them, put politics aside, and put the health and safety of the public first. 

Jonathan Meddings is a Senior Policy Analyst at Thorne Harbour Health.

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