Queensland rolls out pill testing services

$1 million will be invested by the Queensland government over the next two years and final planning is underway to deliver an event-based service at the Rabbits Eats lettuce festival over Easter.

The free, voluntary, and confidential pill testing service will allow Queenslanders to take substances they intend to use to an appropriately qualified chemist for chemical testing.

The services will also provide health interventions delivered by trained health and harm reduction works to change behaviours and reduce the risk of harm.

Queensland Minister for Health Shannon Fentiman said the services were about harm minimisation. “They aim to make people aware of the dangers of taking illicit substances, influence behaviour and ideally, reduce their use of substances.”

In 2021, there were 2,231 drug-induced deaths in Australia – the equivalent of five deaths a day. Last year, the RACGP welcomed Queensland becoming Australia’s second jurisdiction after the ACT to give pill testing the green light. The RACGP has strongly urged the Victorian government to act on multiple coronial recommendations and introduce a pill testing trial.

“Supporting pill testing at fixed and mobile locations, including events such as music festivals, on an ongoing basis is an Australian-first. These services constitute an intelligent harm reduction measure proven around the world to save lives,” said RACGP Queensland Deputy Chair Dr Aileen Traves.

“We shouldn’t pretend that we can ever completely stamp out illicit drug use or pretend that it doesn’t happen. It does happen, and we should act to minimise the harm and keep people as safe as possible.”

A partnership between the Queensland Injectors Health Network, The Loop Australia and the Queensland Injectors Voice for Advocacy and Action will serve as one provider to deliver fixed site services at two locations in south-east Queensland, and at least one festival-based service in 2024.

“Pill testing services also allow trained staff to talk to people using illicit drugs free of judgment about why they are using drugs and explain the many dangers. What they find is that many people who submit drugs for testing discard them when they find out what they contain,” said Dr Traves.

Drug-checking services provided information for people to make more careful decisions, said The Loop Australia CEO Cameron Francis. “For many people, it will be their first opportunity to talk to a health professional about their drug use and learn about the risks. This is the kind of commonsense approach we need right now.”

Harm Reduction Australia (operating as Pill Testing Australia) has also been engaged to deliver several festival-based services across 2024 and 2025, bringing their experience of operating services at festivals and a fixed-site service in Canberra.

Drug checking allowed people to make more informed decisions at a time when they have already chosen to take drugs, said CEO, QLD Injectors Voice for Advocacy and Action Emma Kill.

“It surpasses substance testing; we’re equipping individuals with the means to make informed decisions about their drug use. By providing accurate information and fostering a sense of responsibility, we’re not just reshaping choices – we’re saving lives and constructing safer, more resilient communities.”

The Queensland Government has also engaged University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research to conduct an evaluation of the services and develop a state-wide monitoring framework for pill testing.

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