Independent report finds pill testing ‘successful’

Evelyn Lewin

10/12/2019 3:03:34 PM

Pill testing provides effective and relevant health information for festivalgoers who plan to use illicit drugs, the report found.

Dr Anna Olsen
Researcher Dr Anna Olsen says the idea that pill-testing services endorse drug use is an ‘overly simplistic’ view of harm reduction.

‘There definitely is evidence to support using pill testing as a harm reduction service.’
That is Dr Anna Olsen, a senior researcher at the Australian National University medical school.
Dr Olsen led an independent evaluation report that examined the outcomes of the pill-testing trial conducted at Canberra’s Groovin’ the Moo festival in April.
The trial tested 170 substances from more than 230 participants. Chemical tests revealed seven pills contained the potentially deadly drug N-ethyl pentylone, sold as MDMA.
Every festivalgoer who was told their pills contained that substance discarded their drugs.
Dr Olsen told newsGP she was pleased by this result.
‘Identifying a dangerous substance is one of the outcomes we look at to consider the success of pill-testing services,’ she said.
Dr Olsen said another key outcome of the report was the positive effect of harm-reduction as reported by patrons who attended testing services.
‘We found some really significant change in attitudes,’ she said.
‘When they came in, they told us they were often getting their health information about illicit drug use from their peers, friends and dealers.
‘When they left, they said they were much more likely to look at health services and brochures and quality places for their health information, which is a good news story.’
‘People also reported that they were less likely to use a drug after they came into the service.’
Of those who utilised the service and still decided to take illicit substances, Dr Olsen said such patrons then often tried to minimise harms.
‘A lot of people told us they were employing some of the harm-reduction measures they were told about by the [pill-testing] educators, such as having lots of water, spacing out their drug taking so they’re not taking it all at once, [and so on],’ she said.
‘So those messages were taken on board.’
Dr Olsen is aware of concerns that pill testing can be seen as ‘endorsing’ the use of illicit substances. She said harm reduction, rather than a more punitive approach, can be a challenging concept for people.
While the main health message regarding illicit substances is to not take them, Dr Olsen said a ‘huge’ proportion of the community will continue to do so.
‘Using the harm-reduction model is saying, “Look, you can definitely come to harm by using these substances. We’d like you to think about maybe not using these substances but if you do, here are some ways to make it a bit safer”,’ she said.
‘So this idea that pill-testing services “approve” of drug use is an overly simplistic understanding of what harm reduction is.’
The report also uncovered findings that may be of particular interest for GPs.
‘I think for GPs, one thing that was really interesting in the research is that most young people – and most of [the festival patrons] were young people – were telling us that they had never spoken to a health professional about their illicit drug use,’ Dr Olsen said.
‘And for young people, most of their contact [with a healthcare professional] would be with their family GP, so that’s maybe something for GPs to think about.’
Dr Olsen believes GPs can take the opportunity to offer such patients information on illicit drug use through reputable sources such as government websites and DanceWize, a peer-based alcohol and other drugs harm-reduction program.
‘[GPs can] make sure that young people know that there are places out there for them to get good quality health information,’ she said.
Dr Olsen is optimistic her report’s findings will help inform future policy-making.
‘We hope that people take the report and read it, understanding that it is an observational evaluation of a trial … but that it does produce some evidence for us moving forward,’ she said.
‘As someone who does a lot of work in the harm-reduction space – and someone who believes in harm reduction as a philosophical approach to providing health services – it’s certainly always great to contribute to the evidence base.’

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Dr JS   11/12/2019 1:33:25 PM

Interesting research , I doubt that anyone will come to see the GP before attending a music festival and seeking advise about drugs and drug testing . I had seen few after the harm is already done .
For those who haven’t come across the various age groups my oldest one was 60 years old grand mother who use it in a festival and end up with renal failure .
It’s a risky behaviour and people know what they getting into it .
Would welcome anyone to come discuss it if they want it to be tested but do we even have any facilities to do that testing and is it covered by Medicare?