For the first time, an Aussie government will allow pill-testing at a festival

The ACT Government has confirmed it will allow pill-testing to take place at Canberra’s Spilt Milk festival this November.

Triple j’s Hack reports the decision was made after months of negotiations between the government and the Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE) consortium.

ACT Minister for Health and Wellbeing Meegan Fitzharris said that while the government definitely does not condone drug use, the service will “remind [people] of the risks before they make the final decision to take a drug.”

“The ACT Government has carefully assessed the proposal from STA-Safe and will allow pill testing at Spilt Milk,” Minister Fitzharris told Hack. “Pill testing means young people who are considering taking drugs can be informed about what’s really in the their pills and how potent they are.”

The pill-testing at Spilt Milk will be will be conducted by Harm Reduction Australia (HRA) — which has long advocated for the introduction of the practice. It will be completely anonymous and free.

Participants will first answer a short survey about what particular drugs they are taking, then supply a small scraping of the substance to be tested. The composition of the drug will be analysed, and after 10 or 15 minutes, the participant will know exactly what substance they are ingesting.

“It will give quite a detailed analysis of the content of that drug and the levels of the different chemicals in that drug,” President of HRA Gino Vumbaca told Hack. “From there, we’ll have people there who will be able to provide feedback about what those particular chemicals are and what may be expected as a result.”

If the participant decides to dispose of the drug, there will be amnesty bins available — they’ll be filled with bleach to destroy the drugs quickly.

If a punter has their substance tested and decides to still ingest it, Vambuca says they won’t be sprung by police on the way out of the pill-testing area.

“The best analogy I can give is needle and syringe programs,” she told Hack. “When we first started those in Australia, what police could have done is sit outside the needle and syringe program, see who went in and see who came out, and then make arrests.”

“There’s no public health interest in police doing that. That would shut down the service and no one would ever go again.”

“We’re talking about safe drug use,” Vambuca continued. “We want people to be as safe as they can be when they’re using drugs, and that means knowing what they’re actually using. One thing that we’ve made very clear is that we won’t be telling people that it’s safe to use a particular drug. There are harms associated with any drug use. What we’re trying to do is make it safer.”

The announcement comes only a few months after a similar proposal to conduct pill-testing at Canberra’s Groovin’ The Moo festival was rejected by the ACT Government.

Vambuca told Hack there are currently no plans to expand the service to other Australian festivals.