Over the past few weeks, pill testing has continued to be a regular focus across the Tasmanian and national media following the New South Wales Coroner’s recommendation to introduce pill testing at NSW festivals this year.
While the NSW Coroner recommended a range of actions (including consideration to the decriminalisation of illicit substances) the recommendation to introduce pill testing has been the focus of the media and community’s attention.
In Tasmania, the ATDC has continued to proactively engage with the media on this topic. Our focus has been on correcting misinformation, challenging facts versus personal opinions, and calling on the government to not lose sight that the upcoming festival season is just around the corner and the need for measures to be put in place to make our festivals safer (this is happening!).
During all this, we’ve been asked on more than one occasion why we continue to be steadfast in our position to trial pill testing in Tasmania, particularly given the Tasmanian Government’s similarly steadfast position not to.
My answer to this question always touches on two key points, and I want to share these with you.
The first is a simple one. The ATDC is an organisation committed to evidence-based policy and practice and we believe that there is sufficient evidence to support the merits of a trial of pill testing at Tasmanian music festivals and events (and usually when I say this I usually also gently add that our organisation’s position is not aligned to any hidden agendas, personal crusades or any political party – albeit our position will at times align with particular views. We are advocates not activists!).
The second point I emphasise is that this discussion is not just about pill testing. Let me explain.
Pill testing is one of many alcohol and other drug harm-reduction strategies available (and in use) across our community. However, due to the tragic circumstances of the young lives lost at NSW’s festivals and events, the calls to introduce pill testing are the strongest they’ve ever been.
The focus on pill testing is providing a very valuable platform to engage our community in a discussion about drug use, drug policy and about how people want to see drug information and support delivered in the future.
It’s proving to be a challenging discussion for many.
I suspect that this is because, for some, they are concerned that if we allow ourselves to address the harms of illicit drugs through a service like pill testing, then we’re acknowledging that people are using illicit drugs. And if we acknowledge that people are using illicit drugs, are we giving up on our attempts to stop them, or going as far as to perhaps endorse it?
We have answers to all of these worries, but these are legitimate questions and concerns the community is raising. And it is a discussion that the ATDC welcomes and strongly encourages because developing drug policy is complex (particularly when addressing illicit drug use) and the community needs to have the opportunity to express their thoughts and concerns and to be heard.
And in return, all we are asking is that people listen to our responses and the evidence supporting it – and this will continue to be our focus moving forward. In doing so, we remain optimistic that it is only a matter of time before the evidence and the community calls for pill testing result in a trial.
In the meantime, we give our thanks to the festivals organisers such as Falls Festival who are working hard to ensure that all possible measures are in place to increase the safety of patrons and reduce the risk of harm from illicit drugs this festival season.
Chief Executive Officer