ACT Government commits to fixed-site pill testing pilot

The ACT Government has committed to pilot Australia’s first ever fixed-site pill testing service in its 2021-22 budget, handed down this week.

The Government will fund a six-month pilot of the service to “determine service demand and community support” for a future permanent fixed-site pill testing service in the Territory.

Advocacy groups Pill Testing Australia (PTA) and Harm Reduction Australia (HRA) welcomed the pledge, saying discussions with the ACT Health Department on the commencement date and operating hours of the service would take place in coming weeks.

PTA and HRA say their roles in steering Australia’s only pill testing services at music festivals gave the ACT Government confidence to proceed with the country’s first fixed-site pill testing service.

“There will be significant data collection and an independent evaluation built into the pilot program to allow the ACT Government to determine its future beyond the pilot period,” the groups said in a statement.

“It is also hoped that the information provided by the pilot program will allow other Governments in Australia to consider the evidence and determine the public health benefits from replicating the ACT Government decision.”

PTA & HRA have also reiterated their offer to provide a cost-free trial of its pill testing service at music festivals to all other Governments – an offer accepted in 2018 by the ACT Government.

“Pill testing has been shown to significantly reduce the harms from drug use by providing accurate information directly to people about the content of those substances. Too many Australian young people lose their lives each year from drug use.”

At the beginning of 2019, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) called for urgent national action on the introduction of pill testing trials after a series of deaths and overdoses at music festivals over the summer period.

At the time, ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said that for many years the union and other key experts had advocated for drug and alcohol related harm minimisation measures.

“Supported by a significant volume of international evidence, Australian experts, nurses, doctors and others working in drug and alcohol services, are increasing their calls for pill-testing trials,” Ms Butler said.

“Australia has an internationally recognised reputation in its approach to harm minimisation with regard to drug and alcohol use but we are falling way behind in our approach to pill-testing.

“Politicians must respond to the evidence, and while many calls are being made on state Premiers to introduce pill-testing trials which would be useful, there must be national leadership and coordination on this issue.”

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA), who have been among health organisations calling for state and federal governments to implement pill-testing trials, welcomed the ACT Government’s move.

“It is great to see that tackling the highly-controversial topic of pill testing remains on the Chief Minister’s agenda,” PSA ACT Branch President, Renae Beardmore, said.

“Illicit drug use is an incredibly complex and challenging issue for our community, and contributes significantly to the total burden of disease and injury in Australia.

“Pill testing and drug checking aims to provide consumers with credible information about the risks of consuming particular substances. The intent of pill testing and drug checking is not to provide the impression the tested substances are safe, as they remain illegal and potentially very harmful.

“PSA supports Australia’s commitment to harm minimisation as outlined in the National Drug Strategy. This includes support for initiatives which reduce demand, reduce harm and reduce supply of illicit drugs.”

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