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19 Sep. 2019

Palmer: Empowering people to make fully-informed decisions about drugs is a central tenet of proper pill testing

"I come to my position as a consequence of witnessing the failure of our current approach," Mick Palmer, former Police Commissioner, began his editorial for 10 daily on Wednesday afternoon.

Palmer, a spokesperson for the Take Control campaign for safer, saner drug laws, wrote about his frustrations with government to ignore evidence for further trails of pill testing and implement easy, less effective solutions. 

"The ACT trial showed it is possible for government, law enforcement, event promoters and harm-reduction advocates to work together to enhance the safety of festival goers and for the greater good. More importantly, the trial was well received by festival goers and there is no reason to think this cannot happen elsewhere.

"Currently there is no quality control on offer to attempt to qualify this behaviour or provide advice and warnings. The number of hospitalisations and adverse reactions, including deaths, illustrates the deficiencies in our ‘just say no / law enforcement’ approach."

Palmer explained the "vast majority" of people who are taking drugs to enhance their night out or festival experience are, "decent young Australians, who would otherwise never come to the attention of police."

Back-of-house testing, where drugs collected into bins by police and ambulance workers are tested off-site to then send around social media messages of warning to punters, is an option Palmer believes would not suffice. "My professional and personal experiences combine to convince me that this approach would take Australia backwards."

Whilst I believe that testing and broadcasting warnings about dangerous drugs is vitally important, a service that aims to do this yet does not make young punters the focus is not, in my opinion, pill testing at all. It is certainly not harm reduction, which surely should be the central purpose of the exercise. It is simply another branch of law enforcement.

Palmer continued, explaining the very purpose of pill testing or drug checking services as harm reduction cannot be applied within this new proposed method.

"More importantly, the current police methodology, including surveillance and the use of sniffer dogs,  defies the purpose that has always been at the very core of pill testing: enhancing engagement with a demographic that will not traditionally access drug-related health services.

"Empowering people to make fully-informed decisions about drugs is a central tenet of proper pill testing... Back door models and surveillance will do very little for people to make better-informed decisions about drug use and they certainly will not allow any opportunity for harm reduction workers to engage with the actual people attending live music events."

To read the entire article, please visit the 10 daily website here.