Pubdate: Mon, 29 Feb 2016
Source: Canberra Times (Australia)
Copyright: 2016 Canberra Times
Authors: Natasha Boddy and Eamonn Duff


A leading Canberra doctor behind a plan to roll out a private pill 
testing trial at music festivals believes it could persuade up to 60 
per cent of people who use the service not to take potentially dangerous drugs.

Fairfax Media revealed on Sunday that Australian Drug Law Reform 
Foundation president Dr Alex Wodak and Canberra physician Dr David 
Caldicott planned to run the trial at Sydney music festivals without 
police or state government approval, potentially breaking the law.

The controversial service, which would allow festival-goers to submit 
their drugs for testing at music venues would "save people's lives", 
Dr Caldicott told The Canberra Times.

The Canberra-based emergency doctor and senior lecturer in medicine 
at ANU said drug checking changed the behaviour of users.

"We could run the trial tomorrow, find out what drugs are on the 
market now and persuade 60 per cent of consumers not to take their 
pill. It's the only intervention that's ever been shown to actually 
stop people using drugs at the point of consumption."

Dr Wodak and Dr Caldicott said the trial would take place in NSW with 
or without the government's permission.

NSW Police oppose the trial and premier Mike Baird has refused to 
state a position on the issue despite commissioning formal advice.

"It is a sad and sorry situation where doctors are forced into this 
position where they have to entertain the possibility of being 
arrested for trying to save people's lives and it's a terrible 
indictment of any political system," Dr Caldicott said.

A private pill-testing trial would not be illegal in the ACT but 
would require co-operation from festival organisers, venue owners, 
insurers and law enforcement.

The ACT government is unlikely to support such a trial, with Chief 
Minister Andrew Barr saying it was not a "government endorsed" approach.

" The ACT government is committed to its harm-minimisation approach 
to illicit drugs, and is constantly looking at ways to better reduce 
harm, reduce supply and reduce demand," he said.

"However, it is not a government endorsed approach  and the 
possession of illicit drugs remains an offence within the context of 
a harm minimisation approach."

But Dr Caldicott said the proposed trial was firmly based on harm 
minimisation principles.

"A war on drugs is an ideological construction that flies in the face 
of everything we know about young people, which is that they like to 
use drugs so the only thing that we really should be persuading them 
to do, as doctors, is to try to keep them alive while we try to 
persuade them not to use drugs. That's what harm minimisation is all 
about," Dr Caldicott said.

Earlier this month, Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury called for the 
ACT to lead a "multi-pronged" pill testing pilot proposal.

Dr Caldicott said medical professionals and politicians in the ACT 
had been "far more receptive" to a discussion around the pros and 
cons of a pill-testing scheme.

He said the NSW trial, which would "take the laboratory to the music 
festival", would be funded through crowdfunding and philanthropy. It 
was expected to cost $50,000 - $100,000.
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