We finally had a pill testing trial at an Australian festival on the weekend. As was widely reported, Groovin’ The Moo allowed a group of harm minimisation advocates to set up a testing tent at their Canberra leg – and out of over 80 tested samples, two were found to be potentially lethal.
Here is Australia's first official #pilltesting service in numbers:
85 samples tested
50% was 'other' (lactose, sweetener, paint)
50% was pure MDMA
2 of the samples were deadly
So, harm reduced.
We did it.
— Matt Noffs (@mattnoffs) April 29, 2018
This is genuinely fantastic news.
What better way to prove the necessity of pill testing than to show that two or more people (depending on how many mates were sharing the tainted party treats) could potentially have died if they’d blindly taken something they’d bought in good faith?
As a result, nobody died from ingesting the substance, N-Ethylpentylone – which has been linked to mass overdoses in Europe – and as reported by Vice, authorities are now aware that it’s present in the ACT thanks to the testing trial specifically.
There are plenty of people who still argue that pill testing shouldn’t go ahead because encourages people to think drugs are “safe”. But people are taking drugs and rolling the dice even though they know it isn’t necessarily safe – we all did Happy Healthy Harold, and the payoff of a fun high at a festival or show is enough for tens of thousands of young people to take the risk every year.
Even less sophisticated are arguments like Steve Price’s. The shock jock had a go at advocate Matt Noffs during a segment about the trial on The Project last night, yelling about how drugs are illegal (duh) and his kids don’t do drugs (sure, Jan). He was really bothered by the idea that the police knew there were punters walking into that tent with Illegal Drugs and didn’t do anything –because the concept of harm minimisation is apparently either too complex or too humane for him to grasp, and also what are cops even for if not for arresting people Steve Price doesn’t like?
If people like Price had their way the drug testing tent would actually be a hidden conveyor belt straight to jail, and anyone who died from taking a capsule full of some mystery substance deserved it for making bad choices and not being raised by Steve Price.
A pill or bag that’s confirmed to contain what you paid for can still be dangerous, of course – but it’s a hell of a lot safer than something that’s straight-up lethal.
Abstinence-only policies don’t work for sex education, and they don’t work for drug policy. People are going to do it anyway, because humans love fun stuff more than they love not doing fun stuff. People die climbing Everest all the time, but that doesn’t mean we say “No guides or oxygen tanks for you, idiots, you brought this on yourself”.
But the props don’t just go to STA-SAFE and the advocates who fought so hard for this to happen – although of course, huge amounts of credit to them for trying to drag Australia’s backward-ass drugs policy kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Props, also, to the punters who tracked down the testing tent and handed over precious scrapings of their expensive mystery dingers.
Fronting up to have your drugs tested took guts. There wasn’t necessarily adequate legal protection for people walking into that tent, one expert told the Canberra Times.
There was a police presence and security guards outside the tent, according to a separate report by the Canberra Times. One of the festival promoters, who definitely deserve praise for allowing the trial to go ahead, reportedly told the Fairfax journalist to delete a picture of the cops outside the tent.
The official line, though, was a pro-minimisation-friendly agreement that the cops wouldn’t target the tent or the “health precinct” where the testing tent was located.
Every person who walked into that tent to take part in the trial contributed to a positive outcome, and at least two of them may have saved their own lives.
It would have been scary – but it was also responsible, and smart. And whatever your stance on recreational drug use is, people being smarter about it is a good thing.
And that goes double for the people who make the rules.