Push for pill testing ahead of festival season

A contingent of 20 drug safety advocates across the legal, medical and welfare space will petition NSW Premier Chris Minns to trial drug checking ahead of the upcoming summer festival season.

Signatories include the Royal College of GPs, the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Unharm and the Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies (NADA) called on the Premier to take action.

The group is calling for fixed and mobile checking sites across the state, citing the success of a six-month drug checking service run by CanTEST and the ACT government which has secured funding until at least December 2024.

After analysing more than 1000 substances in its first year of operation, the program found more than 10 per cent of substances were discarded following are testing.

The letter, which will be launched on Monday morning opposite NSW parliament said banning drug checking was “putting lives at risk”.

“It’s impossible for people to know what they’re really taking, and the consequences can be deadly,” it read.

“With the return of El Niño, this summer is set to be a hot one, and we know that heat drastically increases the risk in taking unknown substances.

“Drug checking is a simple, proven step you can take to prevent drug-related health emergencies including overdose deaths.”

As it stands, the Minns government has ruled out enacting further drug reform until a statewide Drug Summit is held. However, this has yet to be announced.

Dan Howard, the commissioner who led the state’s special commission of inquiry into the drug ice between 2018-20, said it was time for more immediate change.

He said drug checking services are evidence-backed and were one of the 109 recommendations handed down by the inquiry more than three-and-a-half years ago.

“My Special Commission of Inquiry heard a great deal of evidence and concluded that there is a strong and compelling evidence base to support drug checking as an effective harm reduction measure in conjunction with other harm reduction strategies,” he said.

“The success of the CanTEST program in the ACT has provided further compelling evidence yet NSW continues its inexplicable paralysis on this pressing issue.”

After taking three years to respond to the report, the former government accepted 85 of the reports recommendations, however rejected its calls for a statewide clinically supervised substance testing program.

A drug-checking pilot was also welcomed by RACGP’s Specific Interests Addiction Medicine chair Hester Wilson.

“I encourage the NSW Minns Government to support the safety and wellbeing of NSW residents by allowing both mobile and fixed substance safety checking sites to operate in NSW,” she said.

The chief executive of Unharm, a charity which aims to prevent and control of drug addiction, Will Tregoning, said drug checking services would save lives.

“People from all walks of life use drugs, helping everyone stay safe shouldn’t be illegal,” he said.

“The message from the experts, the evidence and the community is clear – drug checking is the right thing to do. It will help keep people safe and prevent tragedies this summer. It’s time NSW got with the times and took this simple, proven step to help people stay safe.”

Mr Minns has been contacted for comment.

Originally published as NSW Premier Chris Minns pushed to implement drug testing ahead of festival season

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