The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) welcomes the ACT Government’s commitment to harm minimisation by funding a pilot for a fixed-site pill testing service.
This week’s ACT Budget provides funding for a six-month pilot program which will support the harm minimisation initiative, pill testing. This service provides analysis of the content of illicit drugs, warning users about unknown and potentially lethal contaminants.
PSA considers pill testing and drug checking to be consistent with the principles of harm reduction and supports further trials to inform the role of pill testing and drug checking within Australia. PSA believes that these trials should occur both at music festivals and also within or near other environments where illicit drug use occurs.
PSA ACT Branch President, Renae Beardmore, applauded the Barr Government’s commitment.
“It is great to see that tackling the highly-controversial topic of pill testing remains on the Chief Minister’s agenda. 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.
“Such services have been trialled and tested across European countries such as the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and France – providing conclusive evidence that pill testing saves lives. Here in Canberra, pill testing has been trialled at Groovin the Moo music festival in 2018 and 2019 – this saw patrons, who had dangerous drugs identified, dispose of the drugs in amnesty bins. In the 2019 trial, 28 percent of patrons noted that they would use less of the drug than initially intended. These results attest to the findings of these European country.
“As medicine safety experts, pharmacists can have a key role in this intervention and in the provision of such advice. Pharmacists have a long and established role in harm minimisation, from Opioid Replacement Therapy and needle and syringe programs, to providing naloxone over the counter. Pharmacists also have extensive experience in handling restricted substances.
“There are many ACT pharmacists that work in the harm minimisation space and some have the particular skillset that would make them perfect for involvement in trials and subsequent implementation of ongoing pill testing and drug checking services.
“By providing tailored support and information on drug use and associated harms, consumers will be empowered to make informed decisions when considering use of a substance.
“Law enforcement by itself does not stop people from dying, and in some cases can exacerbate outcomes from drug consumption – but pill testing, as a supplementary strategy, can. PSA looks forward to providing support to ACT Health in rolling out this initiative,” Ms Beardmore said.