Canberra’s drug checking service extended

The ACT Government has extended the CanTEST Health and Drug Checking Service pilot until August 2023 following the release of the interim independent evaluation of the Service.

The Australian-first service launched in July 2022, initially as a six-month pilot. It provides chemical analysis of drugs as well as drop-in nurse consultations offering general health, sexual health and mental health advice.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the service had received strong community support since opening its doors.

“The ACT continues to lead the nation with our evidence-based approach in treating drug use as a health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue.”

“We have seen a great community response to this service. Those using CanTEST have reported positive experiences of having their drugs tested without fear of judgement.

“The service has also contributed to information about the drugs circulating in the Canberra community, which allows health services and the wider community to learn about and respond to dangerous substances earlier,” said Minister Stephen-Smith

Since opening its doors, a range of drugs have been brought into the service for testing, including MDMA, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, ketamine and psychedelics.

In its first four months of operation, CanTEST tested 371 samples, with around 15 per cent of samples being voluntarily discarded by clients following testing.

The service also delivered 436 health and alcohol and drug interventions in its first four months, with some clients receiving multiple interventions in one visit.

An independent evaluation of the service is currently being undertaken by ANU, in partnership with researchers from other universities, with the final evaluation expected to be delivered in the first half of 2023.

“The investment of $350,000 to extend the service until August will ensure the Government can appropriately consider the full evaluation while Canberrans continue to access the service.”

The interim independent evaluation report released today recommends the pilot be completed and service continue pending the full evaluation. The report details the impact the service has had over the first three months of operation, indicating strong user support and engagement with the AOD and health interventions.

The interim independent report found that 80 per cent of clients accepted an AOD or healthcare intervention and 62 per cent reported never previously accessing a healthcare worker for information or advice about drug use.

“The ACT Government is committed to evidence-based harm minimisation, in line with the National Drug Strategy 2016-2026 and the ACT Drug Strategy Action Plan 2022-2026.

“The ACT Government does not support or condone illicit drug use, and our advice to the community will always be to not take drugs.

“However, we recognise that some people will use illicit drugs. Drug checking alongside expert advice and brief health interventions can reduce the harms associated with drug use, especially for people who may have limited drug-taking experience,” said Minister Stephen-Smith

Quote’s attributable to Directions Acting CEO, Stephanie Stephens:

“Directions Health commends the ACT Government on continuing the CanTEST pilot. Throughout the pilot we have supported people who intend to use drugs to have access to information that could save their life, leading to better informed choices and reducing the risk of overdose.

“Without CanTEST, we would not have identified dangerous and unexpected drugs circulating in Canberra or had the opportunity to have a non-judgemental, practical and evidence-based discussion about drugs, their contents and potency with the people planning to use them.

“The Canberra community has given great support to CanTEST, recognising the value of a health response to drug use. We’re proud to continue delivering an Australia-first harm minimisation service for Canberrans.”

Quote’s attributable to President of Harm Reduction Australia & Pill Testing Australia, Gino Vumbaca OAM:

“Just as we saw with the previous festival based pill testing trials, the public health benefits of the fixed site have also been proven

“We thank and commend the leadership of the ACT Government for protecting its community and remind governments across the nation of the Pill Testing Australia offer a free trial of pill testing at a festival of their choice. This was an offer taken up by the ACT Government in 2018 and led to the now very successful trial of a fixed site service.

“The lack of pill testing services outside Canberra is an ongoing tragedy for far too many people and families and begs the question of how much more evidence is required for these services to be established.”

CanTEST Health and Drug Checking Service is run by Directions Health Services in partnership with Pill Testing Australia and Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy.

Located on the ground floor of the City Community Health Centre at 1 Moore Street Civic, the free and confidential service is open every Thursday from 10am – 1pm and Friday from 6pm – 9pm.

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