Support for pill testing continues to grow

Matt Woodley

21/01/2019 2:45:21 PM

NSW politician urges colleagues to ‘get real’ about pill testing after becoming Australia’s first sitting MP to admit taking MDMA.

NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann has described the NSW Government’s zero-tolerance policy on illicit drugs as a ‘catastrophic failure’.
NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann has described the NSW Government’s zero-tolerance policy on illicit drugs as a ‘catastrophic failure’.

Greens upper house member Cate Faehrmann made the admission in an op-ed published by Fairfax, written in opposition to the NSW Government’s zero-tolerance policy on illicit drugs.

Ms Faehrmann described the approach as out-of-touch and a ‘catastrophic failure’, adding it had cost people their lives.

‘When the millions of Australians … who have used cannabis, ecstasy or cocaine over the past twelve months hear the Premier’s message that “there is no such thing as a safe illegal drug” and “just say no” they wonder what planet she is living on,’ she wrote.

‘Young people are not fools. They want us, as politicians, to “get real” about illegal drugs. Their parents want us to stop the moral crusade and listen to the evidence.

‘This means being honest about the nature and extent of drug use and accepting the evidence that a harm-minimisation approach, where illegal drug use is treated as a health issue [and] not a criminal one, works.’

The 48-year-old said she had occasionally taken MDMA since her early 20s and accused other professionals involved in the debate – including doctors, police and politicians – of engaging in the same type of behaviour.

Ms Faehrmann’s letter was in stark contrast to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s comments on the same day, saying she remains unmoved and will not support pill testing.

‘The sad thing is what’s killing young people is the ecstasy itself,’ Ms Berejiklian said. ‘Sometimes nothing is mixed up with it so the pill testing might say the pill has got pure ecstasy in it, someone takes it and it could still kill them.

‘What I’m saying is, do the safe thing and don’t take it because pill testing doesn’t necessarily give you the green light, even if the pill doesn’t have all these other caustic substances in there right and it’s pure ecstasy that can still kill you, and everybody’s body is different.

‘If you say try it and it gives the green light, at the moment a few kids might be saying, “Gee, that scares me a bit, all these people are dying, I’m going to stay off it”. If we try it and all these people take drugs that ordinarily wouldn’t, then that can have an awful impact as well.’

Ms Faehrmann’s letter was published two days after the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) became the second peak medical body in Australia to support pill testing, following the Australian Medical Association (AMA).

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon has also said a pill testing trial is worth consideration.

The RACP last week published an open letter addressed to state and territory leaders, imploring them to adopt pill testing trials at upcoming festivals. The letter, signed by the president of the RACP’s Chapter of Addiction Medicine, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, said an ‘over-emphasis’ on law enforcement is failing the community.

‘The RACP’s experts in addiction medicine and public health medicine believe the evidence currently available justifies the introduction of carefully designed pill testing trials in Australia,’ Dr Lloyd-Jones wrote.

‘Ideally, we would all like young people and the wider public not to use drugs illicitly, however, the reality is that they do in large numbers and the moral message to abstain from taking drugs is not getting through.

‘Existing policies in place at festivals to discourage drug-taking, including heavy police presence, sniffer dogs and searches, are not effective. These policies are failing our communities and our young people, leading to unnecessary deaths.’

However, Dr Lloyd-Jones cautioned that pill testing in itself is not a ‘panacea’ and said it needs to be implemented in conjunction with other measures that prioritise safety over criminal and legal measures.

Pill-testing-rally-hero.jpgHundreds gathered at a Pill Testing Saves Lives rally​ in central Sydney on Saturday 19 January. (Image: Steven Saphore)
Six people have died as a result of overdoses at Australian music festivals this summer, reigniting the debate over the best approach to preventing drug-related deaths.

The vast majority of state and territory governments have so far resisted calls to trial pill testing, citing a lack of evidence and advice from police that it may give users a false sense of security.

Despite this, pressure has continued to mount in support of the initiative. More than 500 protesters joined a Pill Testing Saves Lives rally at Sydney Town Hall on Saturday, while six crossbench MPs in the Victorian upper house have vowed to push the Andrews Labor Government to trial pill testing at upcoming events.

The crossbench MPs – representing the Greens, the Reason Party, Liberal Democrats and the Animal Justice Party – hold the balance of power in the upper house and have said they will use their numbers to apply pressure on the government.

However, according to the ABC, a government spokesperson said there are still no plans to introduce pill testing at any event in Victoria.

‘Advice from Victoria Police tells us it can give people a false, and potentially fatal, sense of security about illicit drugs,’ the spokesperson said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has likewise given no indication that she will consider any pill testing measures, having repeatedly said she is yet to see any evidence that it would improve safety.

Cate Faehrmann illicit drugs pill testing

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