Illicit Pill Testing …to do or not to do…a hydra monster lurks!

[I acknowledge the well-researched and thoughtful article printed in the Australian on 05 January 2019 by Rick Morton and Jessica Cortis ; I have drawn on material from this article, not directly, but paraphrased. I acknowledge their professionalism.]

At first glance, it appears to be a massive political conundrum.

Recreational drugs, such as those we are discussing are illegal – to have them in your possession, to supply them and to consume them.

Therefore if you bring them to a Government sponsored testing station are you not breaking the law? Is the existence of testing stations like these a tacit approval, by Government, of illegal drug possession? Is the Government not defying its own laws?

Well, Yes. Technically yes.

And, it was this apparent contradiction that led me to look at this thing a little more critically.

There is, on the table, in New South Wales, a proposal that at sizeable public music events/festivals, the NSW Government should sponsor “ illicit drug testing centres “ whose task would be to test presented pills, from the public, to determine whether they are safe to take or not.

The proposal has not, as yet, received the current Government’s approval, but the Premier of New South Wales has stated that if evidence was established that this process would increase public safety – then she would consider the idea.

The proposal is the direct result of yet another drug-related overdose death at a music festival in Sydney. Various medical bodies, community support organisations and some charities have requested the establishment of these testing stations in an attempt to save lives.

So, the question is – what do these pill testing places really do?

The answer can be found in Canberra, gulp, and yes Canberra. Last year, before the Groovin the Moo Music Festival commenced, a drug testing centre was established. A young man brought a sample of what he thought was “ Ice “ to the place to be tested. The test showed that he had been sold a substance associated with mass casualties and death in New Zealand.

The substance contained a pure level of N-ethylpentylone – a member of the bath salts family. This is clear evidence of the crap that is sold as drugs and taken by very foolish people – this substance is poison.

The young man was advised of the substance contained in his drug and what it would do to him ; he threw it in the bin.

When a person brings a substance to a drug testing centre for analysis they are first advised that all drugs are dangerous and that they should not be consumed for any reason at any time. They are also required to sign a waiver which releases the drug testing body from any liability attached to the consumption of the drug in question. The next step in the process and I have simplified it somewhat, is that the substance is run through a spectrometer, amongst other things and the person is advised of the content, and the dangers of consuming illicit drugs.

Evidence from the trial in Canberra indicates that most of the young people, who brought drugs to be tested, disposed of them when told of the contents. Some of the materials found in drugs tested were; plasticisers, fillers, cosmetics, pesticides, dyes, paints, coats, lubricants and pharmaceuticals!

Please note that and show this information to young people. It may be of some interest to them.

Once advised of the contents of their drug, the people who brought the drugs are free to leave. Most abandon the drug; some don’t. If they take it, they suffer the consequences, and there is no liability attached.

The public conversation about drug testing centres is increasingly led by millennials, and there are plenty of them. There are now seven million Australians aged between 15 and 35 and just 5.6 million aged between 50 and 70.

Young people know that drugs are consumed on a regular basis. They see it is a fact of life, a fait accompli.

The logic, therefore, is that, if it is happening and it is, better to acknowledge it and provide some safety measures than just ignore it!

And, there is some sense to that.

For me, I have some doubts about the ‘ down the road ‘ issues. For example, why do we test drugs at music festivals and nowhere else? If the danger exists, and it clearly does, then logic demands that the testing process not be quarantined to music festivals – it should be universally available. Perhaps similar to the needle rooms in the Kings Cross in Sydney.

Another example, if the user is advised that their substance contains dangerous or poisonous substances but leaves and takes it anyway; should they not be responsible for the costs to the public health system and the taxpayer?

I believe that in the second case the element of personal responsibility applies; Yes they should pay for their indulgence. Yes, they should. What if they can’t or won't? Well I hold the view that if, having been advised that the substance you are about to take is dangerous or poisonous, you should be advised, and sign a waiver acknowledging the same, that you will be charged with any public health and ambulance costs incurred by you after ingesting this dangerous material.

It is within the resources of any sensible Government to pursue these costs.

Is this a matter of public safety? Probably so.

Should the community pick up the cost of drug testing centres on a universal basis; because to only have them at music festivals is nonsense. Probably not. Community centres and charities, with assistance from the Government, should be able to cope with that business.

This is a contentious issue. It requires some clear thinking about the application of existing laws and the manner in which we view the well-being of young people.

And then there is the fundamentally important issue regarding our Police Forces. They are charged with upholding the laws enacted in our Parliaments. They are superb at what they do – how do we say to them that drug laws are OK, but not at Music Festivals ? This logic does not diminish the Police – it diminishes us, because it is our Parliament, it belongs to us, not those that occupy the seats – they do so because we put them there, please remember that.

It is not, I repeat, it is not patronising, for the current generation of Australians who are the lawmakers to be concerned about the welfare of our young people. That is a natural part of the human development process.

Millennials will soon be, some probably already are, parents. You can be as sure as guns are iron, that they will want their children to come home, undamaged, just as we have done.

On that pleasant note, I shall leave you to think about this matter, it is not resolved here, and my views are not universally accepted, but, we cannot escape it.

It is on our back, and we must deal with it.

[ An astute observer will note that I mention Police Forces, that dates me somewhat – I was a member of the South Australian Police Force in the early 1960’s…Eh Bien ! ]

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