Pill testing kits available over the counter at some pharmacies in NSW and the NT
Choice Pharmacy Vincentia owner Ali Nazim displays two of the pill testing kits now on sale for the first time. (ABC Illawarra News: Jessica Clifford)
In the wake of a number of festival-goers in NSW falling sick or dying as a result of taking party drugs such as ecstasy, ketamine and LSD, a pharmacy chain has begun selling pill testing kits over the counter.
Previously the kits were only available online or at tobacconists selling other drug-related paraphernalia.
The stores are located in Western Sydney, Darwin and Vincentia, a small town on the edge of Jervis Bay.
Hasan Moutasallem, general manager of the Choice Pharmacy chain, said the aim of selling the kits was to make it safer for people who are going to use the pills anyway.
“In terms of this pill test, it’s just kind of an added safety thing,” he said.
“If they are going to take the drug, there is a service available to test it.
“So we are not condoning the use of drugs or anything, just saying there is a service to test it.”
Mr Moutasallem said the kits worked by mixing a drug sample with a solution that changes colour.
“Depending on the kit it will give you a colour, and if it’s the colour representing what you are testing then you know that’s what’s inside the pill. If it’s not, then you know, okay, this is what it’s meant to be, but it’s not showing the correct colour,” he said.
“It’s a kind of a guideline, you know.”
AMA urges caution
Australian Medical Association President Kean Seng Lim urged caution when using pill testing kits.
“If you had suitably trained pharmacists who are doing it in the context of a suitable evaluation there might be some benefit for it,” Dr Lim said.
“But a package, which is sold over the counter, if sold with inadequate advice has the potential to be quite misleading.”
The NSW Government remains directly opposed to any pill testing, despite ongoing lobbying for it to modify its stance.
“The NSW Government does not support pill testing,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.
“Pill testing or ‘drug checking’ may test for the presence of particular compounds in a pill or capsule.
“It does not indicate that a pill or capsule is safe to consume.”
Legality of testing kits unclear
Law lecturer Ben Mostyn from the University of Wollongong said selling the pill testing kits over the counter appeared to be legal, though under the Drugs Use and Traffic Act it was an offence to be in the possession of equipment for the use and administration of an illegal drug.
“So if that was interpreted broadly and this was seen as equipment for the use or administration of the drug there is a chance the possession of that could be illegal,” he said.
Pill testing kits such as these may become increasingly popular if more legal trials are not conducted at music festivals. (Jessica Clifford: ABC Illawarra News)
“But that’s probably a broad interpretation, so most people tend to believe that it’s not illegal.”
But Mr Mostyn said using a pill testing kit independently in the context of a music festival could be viewed differently by police.
“Now at a music festival maybe there would be reasonable grounds if somebody was purchasing or grabbing one of these kits, maybe that would give police reasonable grounds to search them, so certainly it could open up people to the risk of arrest,” he said.
The Australia-first pill testing initiative at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo, in April 2018, appeared to produce constructive results in terms of harm minimisation and education, but outside of the ACT there is little indication pill testing at festivals will occur anytime soon.
This may increasingly encourage festival goers to look for their own solutions.