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First Oz pill testing trial “an overwhelming success”

The pilot at GTM Canberra shows that FOH drug testing "needs to be prioritised and supported by all Australian governments", says harm-reduction consortium STA-SAFE

By Jon Chapple on 20 Jun 2018

Groovin the Moo (GTM) 2018, Canberra

GTM Canberra 2018

image © Jess Gleeson/Groovin the Moo

Australia’s first-ever front-of-house festival drugs testing, at Groovin the Moo in Canberra in April, has been hailed an “overwhelming success” by organisers, paving the way for its roll-out at future events across the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – and, hope campaigners, the country as a whole.

In addition to recommending further pill testing in the ACT, a report by Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE) – which oversaw the Groovin the Moo (GTM) trial – says the success of the pilot scheme shows that pill testing could, and should, be introduced “as a harm-reduction service across Australia”.

“The pilot demonstrated that such an intervention is possible, and that people are willing to use the service, despite the limitations arising from the tight timelines, inauspicious physical infrastructure and the lack of dissemination strategies on site during the festival,” it reads.

“The development of a uniquely Australian pill-testing service model that involves peers, health professionals and law-enforcement officials working together to reduce harm among drug users needs to be prioritised and supported by all Australian governments.”

“As the first trial to be conducted in Australia, I know that other jurisdictions will be looking on with interest”

A total of 129 people used the STA-SAFE facility, with analysis turning up “a range of substances, ranging from lactose to high-purity MDMA, cocaine and ketamine”, as well as “one dangerous substance that has led to hospitalisations in New Zealand and deaths in the US”.

Jon Drape, whose Ground Control Productions company works with Kendal Calling, one of the select number of UK festivals where front-of-house pill testing is offered, told IQ in 2017 drug testing is a “no-brainer”, as around a quarter of those who tested their drugs opted to bin them after discovering their content. At Secret Garden Party 2017, meanwhile, in addition to high-strength MDMA, drug tests discovered ‘ketamine’ that was actually an antimalarial and ammonium sulphate – used as a soil fertiliser and insecticide – sold as MDMA.

ACT health minister Meegan Fitzharris, who backed the GTM pilot, comments: “The trial was a success and had shown there was a demand for the service. This will assist to better understand how pill testing may help reduce the harms of illicit drug use at festivals and will inform next steps and future drug policy.

“As the first trial to be conducted in Australia, I know that other jurisdictions will be looking on with interest to see the results of the evaluation. We look forward to releasing the evaluation once complete.”


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