Pill testing should be made available at Northern Territory music festivals to prevent drug overdoses, Assistant Police Minister Jeff Collins says.
- Earlier this year, toxic substances were detected in pills when they were tested in Canberra
- NT’s Assistant Police Minister believes the testing will discourage drug use
- A Select Committee will report findings to Parliament by the end of August
Australia’s first-ever pill testing trial took place in April at a Canberra music festival, where toxic and potentially lethal substances were detected.
Mr Collins, who is part of the parliamentary Select Committee on a Northern Territory Harm Reduction Strategy for Addictive Behaviours, said young people need to be made aware of the risks of taking illicit substances.
“There’s lots of measures that have been taken to try and reduce the number of pills taken, including sniffer dogs and the like,” Mr Collins said.
“But the fact remains that young people are still taking these pills at music festivals in particular and they don’t know what’s in them.”
Allowing people to have pills analysed could prevent drug use, rather than encourage it, he said.
“I’d really hate to see some young person take a pill that they have no idea what’s in it,” Mr Collins said.
“They’ve been sold (it) by some stranger who’s just out there to make a profit.
“It could have any unknown number of harmful substances apart from the drug. For me that’s the worst outcome.”
Mr Collins said he was motivated by concern about his own daughters, aged 12 and 11.
“While I would like to think that they will listen to me and not take pills, I am not so arrogant as to think that that might not happen,” he said.
“So as a personal issue I would like to know that if my daughters are silly enough to make those decisions, that they can at least make them in an informed manner.”
He said his views on pill testing shouldn’t be viewed as advocating a green light for illicit drug use.
“What I am saying is drugs are dangerous, they are a poor health choice. And that’s the message we need to keep reinforcing to our children.”
The Select Committee, which includes three Labor MLAs, one Opposition member and one Independent, will also examine a range of other drug-related issues, including needle and syringe programs and medically-supervised injecting facilities.
It will report its findings to Parliament by the end of August.
Preventing drug use ‘should be priority’
The Deputy Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said it was too early to say whether she would support the push, but preventing drug use should be the priority.
“We would like to see any illegal substances not being used by young people in the community,” she said.
“If there are concerns that young people are engaging in illicit behaviour then that needs to be prevented and stopped.
“If there’s some mechanism to prevent young people then of course we’d support that.”
Chief executive of the Ted Noff Foundation, Matthew Noff, was one of the organisers of pill testing at Canberra.
He said 83 samples were tested at the event, half of which were ecstasy, the other half of which were “essentially rubbish”, including two with highly-toxic substances.
Not only were the pills tested, but he said the service offered them another opportunity to warn consumers about the dangers of the drug, no matter what it contained.
“For those that had ecstasy, it was important to sit them down and say ‘listen, just because it is ecstasy does not mean it’s safe’,” he said.
“Every single young person was told that the best or the safest option was not to use the drug at all.”
He claimed Australia “uses more ecstasy than any other country on the face of the planet” and for that reason many parents wanted the pill testing service available for their children.
He also said international examples had shown this approach not only saw harm reduced, but reduced consumption of the drug.
“The allure of the illicit nature of taking these substances is kind of taken out of it (by the testing service),” he said.
“I think we can not only reduce harm but potentially save lives too.”
NT Police ‘cannot endorse’ pill testing
A spokesperson for NT Police said pill testing sent a message of “tacit approval” in relation to illicit drug use, which the NT Police “cannot endorse”.
He said testing only identified the drug type present and other pollutants in the portion of the pill that was tested, but did not make the drug safe.
“Even if the drugs tested are “pure” people may still require medical assistance after ingesting it. No drug is safe. An overdose can be fatal,” he said.
“Northern Territory Police would like to reiterate the dangers to life in taking unknown, untried, untested substances. It’s a dangerous game of Russian roulette — don’t do it.”