Drug checking trial launches at injecting centre

Michelle Wisbey

8/04/2024 5:02:54 PM

The RACGP welcomed the groundbreaking pilot, which enables users to test their substances while under medical supervision.

Drug substance testing
Since 2001, the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre has supervised 1.28 million injections. (Image: AAP)

A first-of-its-kind trial has kicked off in Sydney, with users of a Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) now able to have their substances tested by a specialist drug and alcohol clinician.
The Uniting pilot program will see an expert visit the Kings Cross centre once a week for the next four months, giving users access to analysis results and harm reduction advice.
Researchers will also investigate the impact of providing detailed information and related advice to MSIC clients, as well as deciphering the best way to warn populations of dangerous drugs.
Just hours after the trial’s launch on Monday, the testing was already making a difference.
Megan was one of the first participants to get her substance checked as part of the project and said the results were ‘astonishing’.
‘Throughout the entire 20 years of my substance use history, in all the countless times I have self-administered drugs, this was the first time ever that I actually knew for certain what I was going to inject into my body,’ she said.
‘Drug testing is such a straightforward way to get information that could save lives and keep people safe.’
The program will be limited to 100 registered clients of the MSIC, who will be asked to provide a small quantity of their pre-obtained substance for testing.
They will then complete a survey and engage in a discussion with the specialist drug and alcohol clinician and chemist, who will explain test results and implications. 
The MSIC’s Medical Director Dr Marianne Jauncey said the pilot will also improve monitoring of the street drug marketplace so unexpected or highly dangerous substances can be identified earlier.
‘NSW has justification for concern, with drug markets being increasingly unpredictable post COVID. The number of drug alerts in NSW is at an all-time high,’ she said.
‘We hope this research helps progress the conversation around the state about drug checking as an appropriate and sensible response to help keep people safe and well.’
The RACGP has welcomed the program, with NSW and ACT Chair Dr Rebekah Hoffman describing it as an ‘important step forward’.
‘Drug checking, including pill testing, saves lives. People can find out what substances the drugs they have been sold contain without fear of law enforcement action,’ she said.
‘Drug testing services also allow trained staff to talk candidly to them free of judgment about why they are using drugs and explain the many risks involved.
‘Many people who submit drugs for testing discard them when they find out what they contain.’
Since 2001, the Sydney MSIC has supervised 1.28 million injections, managed 11,205 overdoses, and had clients accept 22,000 rereferrals to ongoing care and support.
Zero fatalities have been recorded over that period.
The centre’s trial program comes amid growing calls for the rollout of similar testing initiatives across Australia.
Last month, the Queensland Government announced it will offer a permanent pill testing program, following the lead of the Australian Capital Territory in 2022, and Dr Hoffman is calling on the NSW Government to ‘go much further’ and follow suit.
‘Illicit drug use does happen, and we should act to minimise the harm and keep people as safe as possible, including young people with their whole lives ahead of them,’ she said.
‘So, my question to the Government is a simple one – what are you waiting for?
‘We need action, how many more senseless deaths need to happen before widespread drug testing services are available across our state.’

The Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Dependence (MATOD) program is a CPD approved activity, offering participants recognition as an authorised prescriber for medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence.
More information on its modules, eligibility, and how to apply is available on the RACGP website.
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