Australia’s first pill testing trial was held at Groovin The Moo festival in Canberra on the weekend. Australia is set to begin its first-ever pill-testing service
Australia’s first pill testing trial was held at Groovin The Moo festival in Canberra on the weekend. Australia is set to begin its first-ever pill-testing service

Music fest trial reveals what’s really in pills

TWO "deadly" pills and drugs cut with paint, toothpaste and artificial sweetener were found during Australia's first legal pill testing trial at Groovin The Moo festival in Canberra on the weekend.

The trial was a collaboration between Safety and Testing and Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE), the ACT government and ACT Police.

Thousands of people attended the festival at the University of Canberra campus and 128 of those, ranging in age from 17 to over 40, submitted their drugs for testing at a medical tent outside the festival entrance.

Pill testing works by taking a sample scrape off a pill or a small number of granules out of a plastic capsule. That sample is then analysed by a doctor and a chemist to determine what it really contains and the results are handed back to the festival attendee.

They are then able to make a choice about whether they still want to consume the drugs or instead dispose of them in an "amnesty bin".

STA-SAFE member and emergency doctor Dr David Caldicott said five people used the amnesty bin and between 10 and 20 per cent of others who had their drugs tested said they were also considering throwing out their pills.

 

STA-SAFE member Matt Noffs from Harm Reduction Australia said the test results revealed alarming details about what was really in some ecstasy pills.

"We saw 128 people come through with 85 substances and it exceeded our expectations," Mr Noffs told news.com.au.

"People were surprised with the kind of stuff that we found in the drugs. We had everything from paint to toothpaste. We also found Nutrisweet, which is an artificial sweetener, arnica muscle rub and milk powder," Mr Noffs said.

A "significant number" also contained pure MDMA or ecstasy, which Mr Noffs said could still be very harmful.

"Some people think 'This is pure ecstasy, this is OK', but that's not the case," he said.

Two of the pills were considered "deadly", Mr Noffs said.

"A doctor and two chemists analyse the pills and the doctor can see what drugs are in them. They said 'This stuff is deadly. This stuff has been found to kill people'. I know one of the ingredients we found is quite rare here but it's normally found in Europe," Mr Noffs said.

Mr Noffs has long campaigned for the introduction of pill testing. He, along with other advocates, say it is unrealistic to tell people not to take drugs.

"In a perfect world, I wish I could flick a switch and hope that my children and other kids will never take drugs, but that is not going to happen," he said.

"The current laws are not stopping them and we have to get realistic."

A staff member runs through the guidelines for having pills tested before patrons enter the pill testing area at the festival. Picture: Sean Davey
A staff member runs through the guidelines for having pills tested before patrons enter the pill testing area at the festival. Picture: Sean Davey

 

The pill testing area at the festival. The man in the middle is staff, and the pill testing takes place behind the curtain in a tent. Picture: Sean Davey
The pill testing area at the festival. The man in the middle is staff, and the pill testing takes place behind the curtain in a tent. Picture: Sean Davey

ACT Police detective acting superintendent Rohan Smith said police did not enter the pill testing tent at any point during the festival.

"In relation to the tent itself, we had nothing to do with that. It's a [Health Directorate] issue. We just established normal policing protocols at the event," he told Canberra radio station 2CC.

"No police entered that tent at any point in time."

Police had previously said they would "not actively target" the section of the festival where pill testing took place.

"While ACT Policing does not condone the use of illicit drugs, we do support harm minimisation strategies such as the decision to provide an accommodating environment to allow for pill testing," a police spokesperson said.

"As a police force, we will continue to target and investigate the sale and supply of illicit drugs."

The ACT government also gave the pill testing trial its blessing.

"This trial is a breakthrough for harm reduction," ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris posted on Facebook late Thursday.

"It does not condone illicit drug use, but for the first time people will have access to information they wouldn't otherwise have to make better decisions," she added.

News.com.au has contacted Groovin The Moo for comment.

It's unclear whether pill testing will be offered at the festival's upcoming dates in Bendigo, Bunbury and Townsville.

A number of countries have pill-testing programs, including the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and New Zealand.

According to 2016 government data, about 8.5 million people - around 43 per cent of Australians aged 14 and over - have used recreational drugs such as cannabis, methamphetamines, ecstasy and illegally obtained pharmaceuticals in their lifetime.

Do you know more? Email rebecca.sullivan@news.com.au



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