Pubdate: Sun, 06 Mar 2016
Source: Sun-Herald (Australia)
Copyright: 2016 John Fairfax Holdings Ltd


No one wants another summer of deaths at music festivals. Not the 
organisers, the health experts, the government, the festival-goers. 
Nor the parents left to wonder and worry when their children go to 
these events.

But how to prevent it? The best efforts of police, teams of sniffer 
dogs and the threat of arrest have failed to make a dent in 
Australia's love affair with "party drugs". We are many years into 
the relationship and use has not decreased. Meanwhile, the potency of 
ecstasy has shot up and new psychoactive substances are coming onto 
the market, increasing the risks for those taking illicit substances 
and making it harder for medical personnel to work out the best 
treatment for sufferers.

Prominent doctors are so convinced that pill testing will make a 
difference that they are prepared to break the law to conduct trials, 
as first reported in The Sun-Herald last week.

They are reflecting a deep sense of frustration among researchers and 
the treatment sector with Australian drugs policy, which has failed 
to keep pace with international developments. Many even speak fondly 
of the Howard era, which, despite its tough-on-drugs rhetoric and the 
intervention to stop prescription heroin trials, saw $200 million 
poured into diverting drug users from the criminal justice system to treatment.

For opponents of pill testing, including Deputy Premier Troy Grant, a 
former policeman who has had to look into the eyes of parents who 
have lost their children to drugs, it is illogical. It is giving 
young people a green light to risk their lives and putting money into 
the pockets of dealers. Parents may wonder what chance they have of 
stopping their children taking drugs if the government is apparently 
sanctioning it with pill testing.

But for supporters, pill testing is simply acknowledging reality. As 
they see it, some young people will inevitably use drugs. Better that 
testing insert an extra step where the substance is checked and they 
are counselled by a professional about the risks. Armed with 
information and given the chance to reflect, they might think better 
of taking the drug, and use fewer pills than planned or just one drug 
type rather than the common polydrug. Each decision might save their 
life. At no point is drug taking condoned.

Senior doctors with considerable experience feel the government is 
not giving these arguments and their expert advice proper consideration.

But we question their threat of civil disobedience as a way to force 
the government's hand. It seems only to have prompted a premier who 
has shown an admirably open mind on the use of medical cannabis, to 
harden his attitude to pill testing. We hope the opportunity to have 
a mature debate has not been lost amid polarising talk of doctors 
being charged with manslaughter and shutting festivals.

In the interests of informing debate and public policy, the Baird 
government should work towards a limited trial, with the involvement 
of all stakeholders, including the police and festival organisers. 
Those who fear this will encourage drug use should remember there is 
no evidence the Kings Cross injecting room encourages the use of 
heroin. But it has saved lives.
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